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Your Past Informs Your Present

making sense of life & death Jun 18, 2019

Whether you’re aware of it or not, your past informs your present. Previous experiences you’ve had with illness, dying, death, grief, and how someone was cared for after they died, have undoubtedly impacted you in some way, shape or form. Every aspect of a death has likely influenced your sense of what’s possible and what’s not for any and all aspects of your own death and dying.

Last summer, my five siblings (and partners and adult children) and I got together for a weekend, away from the city to begin talking about how we want to be cared for after we die. I realized that while they are my next of kin, we had never talked about what’s important for me around my after-death care, nor did I know what they wanted.

I was excited and nervous to facilitate our family conversation. I’d never been in charge of such a  personal and intimate process. I used several of the tools that are available to you in Willow’s 7 Tools for Making Sense of Life & Death online program and workbook. Like the progression inside these tools, we began gently, and worked our way to questions that can be more emotionally charged. It was one particular set of questions that opened the floodgates during our time together.

Sixteen years after our parents died—five months apart from each other—it was the first time we opened up about how we were each impacted by what did and didn’t happen. Honouring their wishes, but counter to our cultural traditions, we had no funerals, nor any immediate post-death rituals. For each of my parents we had a low-key celebration of life a few weeks after their death.

What was challenging or didn’t go well about a death you experienced?
What went well about a death you experienced?

These questions helped us crack open what had been lying dormant for 16 years. We acknowledged that the celebrations of life were lovely events. One of my brothers told us how meaningful it was for him to speak about my parents at those gatherings.

I, however, I felt robbed and lost. I confessed and cried with my family about how I had yearned for space to mourn inside community, and particularly with them in the days after each death. This led to others talking about their regrets and also revealed our different understanding of what our parents actually wanted!

Starting the conversation is often the hardest part.

From my point of view, the greatest impact of getting together and starting to make sense of my parents’ deaths, is that it brought our family closer. Our hearts are now open to help each other make sense of life. Using the tools in the workbook gave us a better understanding of what matters to each of us at the end of our lives, and therefore, what matters now.

The hardest part for us was starting the conversation.

What about you?
What did and didn’t go so well about a death you experienced?