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Five things to do before you die

24 October 2014

ONLY one in ten of us has had any kind of conversation with someone about how, or where, we would like to die.

The director of public and parliamentary engagement for the National Council of Palliative Care (NCPC), Simon Chapman, and the Dying Matters coalition (which campaigns to promote public awareness around dying, death and bereavement), say that we do not talk about death because we are afraid of it, and we fear it because it represents the unknown.

This is in sharp contrast to the way in which death was viewed in the early 20th century in Britain. "There was a shorter life expectancy at that stage," he says. "Dying and death were seen as part of life, and people were used to it and could talk about it."

The creation of the NHS and advances in science mean that death has been largely removed from our homes and communities, and usually takes place in hospital. "Medical technology has enabled us to live much longer, which is great; but we've postponed death, not cancelled it," Mr Chapman says.

Not talking about our own death can cause serious problems for those we leave behind. "We expect [death] to be difficult and unpleasant, and, because we don't talk about it, [this expectation] becomes self-fulfilling," he says.

If we do not plan ahead, we can leave a mess for grieving loved ones to sort out."It's being able to talk about it without thinking 'If I talk about it I'll make it happen,' or 'It's a long way off,'" he says.

You don't have to be ill or dying to make plans for the future. Dying Matters has produced a leaflet to help open up conversations, 5 Things To Do Before You Die, available on its website. It suggests that the following topics could feature:

Writing a will: Not leaving a will can cause arguments between family members. Get a will and update it regularly.

Funeral arrangements: Burial or cremation; how it will be paid for; what music you would like, and any special wishes.

Care arrangements: If you want to be cared for at home, or in the community, others are going to have to care for you. You will need a package of support in place.

Organ donation: Contact the Organ Donation Register to become a registered donor, and tell someone close to you.

Care of dependants: Think about care of dependent children or your spouse. Will your spouse be able to continue living in your home? Will he or she need extra care?

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