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Some observations about death and dying

Someone close to me died recently. Here are a few of the things I learnt:

  1. Diagnosis is far worse than death.

  2. Sort out your will. Also: sort out a lasting power of attorney, a potted biography, who is going to do the eulogy and what music, hymns and readings you want at your funeral.

  3. Dying people like visitors.

  4. You can’t be sad all the time.

  5. Not everyone wants to die at home.

  6. While this is not the occasion to indulge in NHS bashing, let us say it did not exactly cover itself in glory. Honourable exception: district nurses.

  7. Downturns can happen very quickly.

  8. It sounds obvious, but medical professionals have to be, well, professional. They cannot afford to get emotionally involved. This means that sometimes you don’t pick up on the gravity of the situation.

  9. Pain control is not as simple as you might think.

  10. Brace yourself when you hear the word “Midazolam”.

  11. Most people don’t get a chance to utter dying words. And they’re probably not that profound anyway.

  12. If death is swift, if there is time to talk, if caring is not a burden, if there was nothing anyone could have done, then you are lucky. You won’t think it of course.

  13. A lot of the stress and exhaustion comes from not knowing what you’re doing. Give yourself a break. You’re probably doing much better than you think.

  14. The dead look quite different from the living and the change takes place instantaneously.

  15. If you can, try to close their eyes and mouth.

  16. Some of you may be thinking that if someone is dying it would be a hoot to borrow their car and drive like a loon safe in the knowledge that the points would end up on their licence. This would be illegal. And very, very naughty.

  17. When someone dies there is so much to do you don’t have time to grieve.

  18. Everyone wants a death certificate. Everyone.

  19. You can talk to the grieving but steer clear of jokes or flippancy.

  20. Undertakers are useful. There is a lot that goes into a funeral.

  21. I am glad I went to the Chapel of Rest. I have no idea why.

  22. Pallbearers can be hard to find in England.

  23. It’s the day after the funeral that really hurts.

  24. Most of the deceased’s things will end up in the bin.

37 comments to Some observations about death and dying

  • Never much cared for 21. Not a bit.

    And as for 24, I intend to take the good bits with me 😎

  • PeterT

    Thanks for sharing, interesting post.

  • Some of you may be thinking that if someone is dying it would be a hoot to borrow their car and drive like a loon safe in the knowledge that the points would end up on their licence. This would be illegal. And very, very naughty.

    What on earth brought this to mind?

  • William O. B'Livion

    > Sort out your will. Also: sort out a lasting power of attorney,

    My Father’s brother died without a will. Two ex-wives and one he’d been legally separated from for over 20 years. Nasty mess.

    My Father bitched for 15 years about this.

    Then he died.

    Without a will.

    It was a slightly less nasty mess.

    If you love your family, make a will.

    If you don’t love your family, make a will and leave it all to something they will hate.

    > Pallbearers can be hard to find in England.

    In the US it’s usually family and friends. Not so over there?

    Condolences on your loss.

  • Yes, all of those things, especially the last. AFAIK my ex wife still has a storage unit full of her Grandmother’s heirlooms that, once the funeral was done, the family completely lost interest in sharing out. And that’s just the heirloom stuff.

  • I’m afraid that in the next couple of years, I will be facing this as Mrs L’s cancer is incurable. 🙁

  • llamas

    In my heritage, there is a saying.

    ‘Het zijn beste mensen. Maar heb jij der ooit mee geerfd?’

    Translation is tricky, and the best I’ve come up with so far is

    ‘They’re wonderful people. But did you ever inherit with them?’

    Death sometimes brings out the very worst in people. I’ve see vicious squabbles break out before the undertaker gets to the house. Something about the death of a loved one causes the mental settings of the nearest-and-dearest to be altered, and not always for the best.

    Sorry for your loss.



  • Laird

    I have to say, #16 has never occurred to me.

  • Wh00ps:

    As long as that grandmother wasn’t a hoarder! When Mom went in the nursing home, my sister came up and cleaned out the back bedroom. a 12′ x 12′ room plus closet, and she threw out some 40 large garbage bags of stuff. And that’s not counting clothes that could be donated to charity and stuff that was worth saving.

  • The Jannie

    Never trust other people’s morals in times of crisis. One of the carers in the excellent care home my mother enjoyed for her last years told us of the man – at a different care home – who asked to be left alone with his mother, who had just died. When they went back after a respectful interval they found him rooting around under her mattress – she was still on it – looking for cash.

  • rxc

    Having done it twice, for both my mother and my mother-in-law, I figure out that the best way to clean out the “stuff” is to compile a list of people, starting with closest relatives, and then go to neighbors, friends, etc. The stuff that is designated in the will, or beforehand, gets distributed, with the onus on the recipient to pick it up or arrange for shipping. Then you go thru the list, starting at the top, and give each person the opportunity to pick over the remains and take what they want. They have to come collect it immediately, or else the next name gets to pick. Go all the way thru, and then the rest is left out at the curb to be sorted out by passersby. It is amazing how quickly stuff disappears if left out like this. If any of the remainder can be donated, then do so.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Patrick, I am very sorry. It hurts like a b****. And thank you for the posting.

    Longrider, I hope Mrs. L. does not have too rough a time of it, nor you either. My husband’s cancer was discovered just about three years before he died, so I’ve been where you are now, and it’s tough. Please accept a sympathetic hug, and another for your wife.

  • John P

    My mother passed in February this year. Point #12:

    If death is swift, if there is time to talk, if caring is not a burden, if there was nothing anyone could have done, then you are lucky. You won’t think it of course.

    was especially touching.

    Thank you.

  • Mr Ed

    25. For the departing, should circumstances permit, have a joint bank account with your executor or nearest, so that on death the survivor automatically inherits the account and can access funds.

    26. Make a clear list of all significant assets, (including shares, bank accounts etc.), left on a logical place.

    27. Give an indication of disposal wishes, cremation, burial.

    28. For the immediately close bereaved, force yourself to eat properly.

  • At least in America, if you’re a spouse or the executor of the will, clean out the safety deposit box before informing the authorities of the death, if possible. My grandparents didn’t do this, and it turned out that the will was locked in that safety deposit box, which was sealed upon Grandpa’s death.

  • Bod

    Wherever possible, ensure that valuable and valued items are distributed to intended beneficiaries prior to death in a manner which complies with your local tax laws. If you’re the person who is expected to depart, it’s irresponsible to leave disposal of such items until the reading of the will.

    Many beneficiaries – especially close relations – from a will don’t want to appear to be mercenary when they become eligible for a bequest, and are grateful for whatever the state permits them to receive. By the time an estate is under the control of an executor, a lot of latitude in managing the estate and disposal of its assets has disappeared.

  • bobby b

    I’ve taken part in too many such stories. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that we each need to secure and treasure a small stash of morphine sulfate sufficient to allow us to choose the proper time to duck out.

  • It’s a good post and a long one, even if you omit item 16, but in another sense it could still be called a short list to end a whole life. In C.S. Lewis’ best book, Till We Have Faces, the heroine’s unsatisfactory father dies

    “watching his daughter and a servant ransacking his armoury. And so at last, the thing I had been expecting happened amid a press of business that was more urgent at that particular moment. I’ve seen since how almost everyone’s death makes less of a stir than you might expect. Men better loved and more worth loving than my father go down every day, leaving a very small eddy.”

    (I’m away from home so the quote is from memory.)

  • nemesis

    Looked after mum in her dying days. After keeping a constant vigil for days and nights, I nodded off for 2 minutes which was when she chose to go. It’s remarkable how often this happens.
    It’s a rough ride but I now consider it a great honour to have been able to do it.

  • Ferox

    Because it hasn’t been mentioned yet: leave a list of all the needed login usernames and passwords, including email accounts if those will be required. Getting login access to accounts after someone has died ranges from difficult to impossible.

  • John Gross

    These days an often overlooked item is to write down the passwords to your electronic devices and to all social media accounts. And bleach-bit any files you don’t want to be seen.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    Great list.
    Many sympathies and much thanks for compiling it.

    #16 made me laugh and #18 is so true.
    In the UK you can order extra death certificates at the time you register the death for a very small amount. Getting more later is much more expensive.
    Get 20 (TWENTY), yes 20 (TWENTY).
    Also, make sure you know the deceased’s year of birth as well as birthday. I registered my father-in-law’s death with a very distressed daughter and she was a year out. Caused significant problems for some time.

  • ed in texas

    “the word Midazolam.”
    a/k/a Versed. You encounter it more than you might think. Wiki makes a big deal out of it’s use in legal executions; I myself know that I’ve had it twice as lead in to local anethesia during medical procedures, as in the proper dose it induces a slightly drunk, talky state, and you don’t remember anything.
    Just the thing for a colonoscopy.

  • CaptDMO

    Death Certificates?
    If you’re a “nothing special” kinda’ guy, the executor MAY be able to get by with 20 certified certificates.
    (Copies just will NOT do!)
    Funeral directors can be very helpful with this.

  • Paul Marks

    My condolences to you Patrick.

    And to the other family and friends of the deceased.

  • @Julie, thanks. Yes it is a difficult time.

  • Michael Jennings

    Again, my condolences, Patrick.

  • NickM

    And be especially careful about the spoons f there is a Sackville-Baggins in the family!

    Seriously though, Bilbo’s labelling of everything was the right thing to do. Having a very specific and professionally drawn will (not one of those things you fill out yourself from WHS) might cost a few quid but it will save money (sometimes considerable sums inc. to the HMRC) and heartache.

    My condolences as well thanks for some good advice Patrick.

  • Dr Evil

    #17 is particularly true. I have done the job for two deaths. It is a very busy time. Make sure there is plenty of food for the wake and ensure it’s a pay bar.

  • Ian Bennett

    If either of my parents (or any of their parents) had paid attention to #20, I would have had far less need to, but I would also have remained ignorant of some very interesting snippets of family history.

  • TimR

    My mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and decided to ride it out as treatment could have only added six months of poor quality life. She left a very organized file with all the details of whom to call or inform etc. One thing that stood out for me is when I called the rental company for them to collect the tv and recorder, they informed me to just keep them.

  • Chris Cooper

    Thanks for this, Patrick.

    My wife had 15 months from her terminal diagnosis. The crisis that ended with her death was quite unforeseen. Although she was very frail by that point, she was living at home and we hadn’t faced up to what to do if that became no longer possible. There were two bad days in hospital at the end, but she was spared a lingering end, either there or in a hospice.

    It would have been more sensible to have talked everything through well in advance, but in the end it didn’t matter. But when it came to organizing the funeral, I wasn’t even a hundred per cent sure whether she’d wanted to be cremated or buried.

  • Chris Cooper

    I forgot to say – condolences for your loss.

    Regarding the infamous #16 – I never knew you had a dark side to your humour!

  • James C. Bennett

    11. You can talk to the grieving but steer clear of jokes or flippancy.

    You obviously don’t come from a family with Mafia roots. So at least you have that going for you.

    Seriously though, my condolences.

  • bobmark

    My father in law, who lived next door to us for many years, passed away at home this last fall after an extended illness. Your list pretty well covers what happened.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Having taken a break from the internet for a few days, I didn’t see this post earlier. May I belatedly add my condolences for your loss, Patrick, and likewise to Longrider and those others who have mentioned recent bereavements or who have had bad medical news about their loved ones.

    Perhaps my coming late to this thread has reminded me of a possible addition to the list.

    25. For weeks or even months afterwards, you will keep seeing people who, when seen out of the corner of your eye, look just like the deceased. Once you take a proper look it invariably becomes clear that the resemblance is very general. But for a tenth of a second you will think it was all a mistake.