Spooky season has sailed by, and with it global focus has shifted away from death. The rest of the year the majority of our society dislikes focusing on death. Even though we know it's a part of life. I love horror but I don't want the normalized version of death to be slasher films and haunted attractions. Death is not spooky. Death is sacred, actually.
Those living with life-limiting diseases, like MBC, and our caregivers are faced with mortality daily. From scary statistics to treatment options dwindling to losing friends in the community. Still, when you are raised in a culture that doesn’t discuss death openly, it doesn’t come naturally. Steering towards death positivity is especially challenging when you are in the emotional space of being faced with the reality of your death impending. As with most issues, nothing can be bettered if it isn’t faced, so here are some ways you can practice death positivity, which isn’t another demand that you stuff all negative emotions. It’s a challenge to face those emotions around death and a social and philosophical movement that encourages discussing death and dying and pondering beyond that.
Honor Those Who’ve Transitioned from This Life
An easier place to start with death positivity than thinking of your own death may be making sufficient space for grief. When you’re a part of a community where loss is a regular occurrence, it can become a coping mechanism to not linger with the feelings a loss brings. What I’ve begun doing is acknowledging the mix of emotions I experience: anger, fear, and of course, sadness. I love to light a candle and thank my friends who have passed on for the example they set as they lived with cancer, then I imagine their light (flame) lighting mine to carry on with the work of advocating and simply living my best life. How can you honor those you’ve lost?
Ponder and Prepare For Your Own Death
Preparing for anything is best practice, and truthfully, I wish Advanced Directives and similar documentation was a norm to get completed as soon as one turns 18. It’s easier to get affairs in order when you aren’t rushed and burdened with the emotions a life-limiting disease brings. You can inquire for the necessary paperwork from a social worker at your cancer center or a lawyer, you may also order a well laid out advanced directive from Five Wishes that will allow you to communicate with your loved ones everything from the care you do and do not want to receive before and after death even when you can’t speak for yourself verbally.
Legal documents aren’t the only thing you’ll want to have in order.
Think about what kind of service you’d like to have, who you’d want present, the kind of music you’d want playing, etc. What kinds of things would you want to leave behind for those you love? A friend of mine left a cookbook for each of her children with a photo of them cooking together in it. Choose things that matter to you.
No matter how much I try to normalize discussing death, it doesn’t make it any less
emotionally taxing. That’s why support is important. If your caregivers or noncancer friends aren’t open to discussing death and being a shoulder for you to rest on as you explore and prepare, dive into the death-positive community. You can search death doulas on Instagram or Google. Death doulas help the living overcome anxieties surrounding death, support caregivers and help the dying to have an empowered death.
Many offer groups and resources, such as virtual living funerals to confront all our feelings about death together and make plans. Sometimes doing a hard thing with hands to hold makes it easier.
Preparing for death is a gift to yourself and your loved ones, and discussing death does not summon it. As much as death is a part of life, life comes first and must be completed. As long as you have breath, sit with that fact. Be intentional in your preparations for death (which is inevitable for every living thing) but live with intention as well.
Live Well. Grow Together,
If you would like to get some advise on end of life planning, please join Abigail Johnston for her twice a month legal clinics. Click here to RSVP.