One thing we all have in common: we're going to die. We won't all get married, have children or see Niagara Falls. But every single one of us will die. Yet the vast majority of us only think about death when we have to.
And what's the first thing we do when it happens? We head to the high street and walk into the first funeral director's we can find. We follow their instructions. We take their advice without question. Most of us leave it at that. We don't seek a second opinion. We don't read books on the subject or scour the Internet.
Now let's compare that with death's great friend, birth - the only other experience we all have in common.
When we find out a birth is on the cards, we get planning. We buy piles of books and milk the Internet for every last drop of information. We listen to the doctors and then we research the alternatives. We are voracious in our desire to be prepared, informed and educated.
We ask ourselves every type of question. Do I want a water birth? What about pain relief? What are the different kinds and how will they make me feel? Do I want to be in hospital or at home? What about a caesarean? Do I want my whole family in the delivery room? What types of buggies are out there? How much do they all cost and what are the pros/cons of each? Very quickly we become self-taught experts.
We want to ensure we have as much control as possible in a situation we know will be lacking in security. We know that to be informed is to be empowered.
In 2010/11, 40,000 women attended NCT antenatal classes. This is on top of regular meetings with midwives and GPs. Mumsnet gets 50 million page views per month. We clearly want information badly.
So why do we prepare ourselves for birth and death so differently? Largely because birth is good news and death is not. We're terrified of death and it remains in many ways a taboo subject in our culture. Even the most rational amongst us still believe that to discuss death is to invite it into our lives. We'll refer to it in the abstract - listening to a song on the radio and piping up with, "I want this played at my funeral." But we won't engage with the topic seriously - exploring the options and talking to the people around us about what we'd want - until we are forced to.
This is madness. It leaves the people we love with none of the tools they need to help them through. They probably haven't planned a funeral before and have no idea whether you wanted to be buried or cremated. More often than not, they follow the guidance of somebody who knew nothing of you or your family. If you want to avoid a 'one size fits all' funeral, do some research and talk to your family.
If you didn't get a chance to talk to the person who has died about what they wanted, make sure you take time to think about it in the days after their death. There is no rush - the worst has already happened. Do your research and remember you are in control.
Embalming is a good example. There are many reasons to embalm a body, but it shouldn't happen unless you actively want it to. When a funeral director offers 'hygienic treatment', do you know what he's asking? Don't agree to something if you don't know the implications.
Obviously all this research, talking and planning doesn't mean we can completely control what happens when we die, just like it won't when we go into labour. There are many parents out there who'll tell stories of a birth plan that went wrong. But gathering information gives you the maximum amount of control. When the doctor or funeral director suggests something, you know what it means.
Like anything in life, if you don't know what's possible, it's unlikely you'll have the experience you want. Being armed with information is the only way to protect your rights and get the experience you want and need. Get educated. Be empowered.
Is there much out there to support those of us who want to learn about death, dying and funerals? Absolutely, and here are a few great places to start:
The Natural Death Centre provides objective guidance to those planning a funeral, with a focus on empowering people to do what is right for them. The latest edition of their Natural Death Handbook gives invaluable information about what is possible and most importantly how to achieve it. Their new e-magazine, More to Death, is awesome, progressive, and we're in it!
The Good Funeral Guide is an independent, not-for-profit consumer advice website and book. Their fabulous blog received half a million visits in 2012 (so some of us are thinking about death after all). The book is a no nonsense guide which will leave you 'empowered by knowledge and equipped to take charge'.
Final Fling is 'the spirited, pragmatic home of end-of-life planning'. They provide a wealth of information on death, dying and funerals and offer creative ways to safely keep and communicate your wishes and plans.
Dying Matters is a national coalition which aims to promote public awareness of dying, death and bereavement.
Poppy's Funerals is a London-based company providing a simple, affordable way to take creative control of a funeral.
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