Does grief have legs, wheels or wings; is it a hello or a goodbye; is it positive, negative or a mixture of all of these? Is it appropriate not to cry at a funeral, or even smile? What about wearing that bright blouse or shirt? The death of someone we know can take us – literally or emotionally – somewhere we haven’t necessarily been before.
Over the years, I’ve found the experience of loss is not drawn in straight lines: it twists and turns and catches us unawares, sometimes in totally prosaic ways, sometimes in ways that are full of inspiration and love. Death and the grief that follows it can be like an unpredictable weathervane: we can only expect the unexpected. Feelings of loss can come anytime of the day, at a bus stop, looking out upon a beautiful vista, even in a busy room with a whoosh or a bam, descending on you or hitting you. Knowing in the moment how to respond to someone in grief – to wrap your arms around someone, to provide a gentle supporting hand, or to allow them space to walk forward – relies on an instinct, not a rule. Personally, I wish at times to be with someone and at times to be alone but knowing that there is gentle companionship close by.
Having a good cry can be healthy: those lacrimal glands are there for a reason; I rejoice in the release and relief that tear ducts can bring. I have found that death, or even the loss of what you never had, can be both such a tough but tender experience. At times the tenderness of loss has carried me through a difficult day, giving me energy to remember someone who was super special to me and filling me with overwhelming emotions that one day I will understand further. I take with joy the emotions I do understand because if we can’t find a way of finding a smile through the pain, I feel there will be more pain to follow.
To say you can prepare for death is like saying you can prepare for the sun to explode. I know, dramatic huh? Some of us rely on blind faith that losing someone at the front and centre of our universe will somehow be okay, that someone will step up to make the process alright.
But the process can be hardest when there is a lack of conversation about death; whether that be at home, out and about, or even at work, and whether it be about our own passing or a loved one’s. For some, the topic can be a no-go area, even with family and close friends. For others, it can be a source of solace, catharsis or joy to remember and celebrate those who mattered so dearly.
To find peace, hope and joy through the emotions and feelings that surround death may sound counterintuitive, but I feel a way forward might be to have conversations about death and dying with those that matter to you before you pass away, however brief or concise those conversations might be. Discussing death, grief and loss, I feel, allows people room to breathe, to feel out their thoughts when there is time to do so together, rather than leaving people to face some questions and unknowns about your wishes when they need space to grieve. It ensures you have agency over how others remember and celebrate you when you have passed: an all-seeing eye on proceedings.
You might want to put in place plans that invoke a smile or allow for tears. You might want to talk about medical processes, what happens at the hospital, your funeral ceremony, the wake or afterparties, or what happens to your digital footprint: there will be something that is important to you to share that will help you and those who will miss you feel more at peace by knowing your wishes.
No matter what faith or belief you have, or even if you have none, it is profoundly important to consider matters of the mind, heart, body and soul. But it is often hard to find the entry point to these conversations: how do you start them; how do you politely, and with dignity, end a conversation about death? Having these conversations can be surreal, especially when death is not something you’ve experienced before: talking about it can feel awkward or emotionally taxing, like tempting fate or like removing some of the joy of being alive.
So, whether you wish to arrive at your funeral in a horse-drawn hearse, on a Harley Davidson sidecar or carried in by family and friends, whether you wish for your ashes to be fired into space or for a carbon neutral celebration of your life, I can only positively advocate and recommend finding a way to share your wishes with those closest to you. It’s okay to want people to smile at your funeral. It’s ok to want to wear that bright blouse or shirt, and, with respect, it is certainly okay to be you.
Founder of Letter of Wishes
Create and share your wishes for tomorrow