There are two words that, generally speaking, in the Western world we don’t like to mention much. One of them you will probably not be surprised by. But the other you might well be.
Given my specialty is end of life planning, you can easily imagine what one of these words is – yes, the ‘d’ word – death. Many don’t like to use this word because it’s a bit too much ‘in your face’.
But being willing to talk about this subject, especially when we are 60+, is important. It’s the one certain thing in the very uncertain world we live in, so why do we shy away from it so much?
There’s lots of reasons but many of them boil down to feeling scared.
Scared because we are ignorant. We know very little about this event, since it has become medicalised, and we hand everything over to funeral directors.
Scared that if we talk about it, we will offend others. That we will be accused of being morbid.
And scared that if we dare to consider the fact we ourselves will die, that we will somehow be struck down in that moment.
But the thing is, it IS going to happen. Statistics show that 100% of us will die!
Sometimes it happens out of the blue, but more often it approaches slowly. I learnt about this when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, and a year later had died.
We had a baptism of fire into confronting what is to so many the dreaded elephant in the room.
But in that time, I also learnt about the other word we don’t actually like to say much.
And that one is ‘love’. A bit more surprising perhaps.
But it’s not always easy to say ‘I love you’ to anyone other than your partner or your child, is it? And perhaps not even to them.
After Philip died, I became horrified at the thought that those I loved might not know it. So I allowed the words to flow out, despite awkwardness, to my siblings, my parents, my friends.
I didn’t shorten them to ‘love you’, which has become pretty common as a goodbye statement. I didn’t cringe and stumble. I just opened my mouth and let my heart speak.
I had to force myself to do it, initially. I felt awkward and a bit embarrassed, particularly being British when we are still not supposed to show our feelings.
But I was driven by the impulse of needing to let people know how much I loved them before it was too late, not just by actions (hugely important) but by saying the words ‘I love you’, looking in their eyes and really allowing them to land in both my heart and theirs.
And you know what? It was wonderful!
Some people responded almost by rote, telling me ‘love you too’ – yes, they were a bit awkward. Others just said thank you (that was nice, it felt like I had given them a gift, which of course I was doing). But everyone felt touched, and so did I.
It got easier with practice too, I felt less awkward and less embarrassed.
So my message to you in this article is to think about to whom you might want to say ‘I love you’, someone who wouldn’t normally hear these words from your lips.
Listen to the name that pops into your mind, and then let them know, if you can, face to face. If not, on the phone or video or whatever is fine too.
Then just do it!
See what happens – you just might be surprised.
How often do you mention the word ‘death’ in your conversation? How about the word love? Do you tell your friends, siblings, partner, or children that you love them? How do they respond?