It can be very difficult to talk about the end of life and plan for what happens with your loved ones, but it is extremely important to make sure that you do. In the event of a family death there are many things that need to be organised straightwaway and through the grief of loss that isn’t an easy task, if you know what your loved one would have wanted it is made much easier.
Today we are talking to Deb Rae, a young widow who has spent over a decade working with and supporting people dealing with grief and loss.
Hi Deb, welcome to Beauty and Lace and thanks for talking to us.
Can you tell us a little about Deb Rae Solutions and your background?
Deb Rae Solutions is about supporting people to discover and grow, so they create joy in their lives and contribute to a better world. I support people and workplaces to achieve this through coaching, training and consultancy services. For example, I work with individuals and organisations to improve inter-relational and work skills, such as effective communication, conflict resolution and time management. I also do presentations around empowering women, supporting young people in career choices and leadership skills development.
I also support people wanting to better understand grief and loss. I am a young widow myself – my husband Stuart was killed in an accident when we were both 36 years old, in 2003. We had left Australia five months earlier, to travel and teach English all over the world. We were living in Poland when Stuart was hit by a car one night on a pedestrian crossing as he was walking home.
My whole life changed from that moment. I returned to Australia alone, with no home, no job, no car and no interest in my future. I really struggled to understand what was happening to me in my grief and to find any purpose for my life. Eventually, I studied a Master degree (to learn more about grief) and interviewed many other young widows across Queensland (to see if they felt as crazy as I did). Twelve years on, I have written a book about dealing with grief (Getting There), established a support group for young widows and now help many other people who are working their way through dealing with all kinds of losses.
Dying To Know Day is August 8th, can you explain what this day stands for?
Dying To Know Day is about bringing to life conversations and community actions around death, dying and bereavement. It’s a day aimed at promoting death literacy, so people plan ahead and talk with others about what they want to happen at the end of their life. By having conversations with our family, in schools, at workplaces and in the community, we can make it easier to talk about and respond to death.
I have never heard of Dying To Know Day, can you tell us when it was started and how it came about?
Dying To Know Day is an initiative of The Groundswell Project and events were first held in 2013. They were inspired by a book called Dying To Know, written by Andrew Anastasios and published by Igniting Change, a charity that connects people to spark positive change in communities. The book, like Dying To Know Day, is all about encouraging conversations that “bring death to life”.
What are the most important things to make sure you have in place?
The most important things to have in place are those that will make it easier for your family and friends to honour you in the way you want at the end of your life. Prepare a will and decide what medical procedures you do (or don’t) want to happen if you’re ill (in an Advanced Care Plan).
You can also make sure others know what kind of funeral (or other type of service) you want and what you want to happen to your remains. Without knowing your wishes, these are really difficult decisions for family members to make and can potentially create distress or conflict. It’s important to not only have these plans in writing, but to communicate them to family members as well.
The whole idea of planning for a family death can be quite daunting, what advice would you give?
Yes it can be daunting, but it can also be one of the most beautiful conversations you have with someone you love. It’s all about how you approach it. When my husband died, I considered it a privilege to arrange his final farewell the way he wanted it. I got to do something special for him one last time. It was only because we had made end-of-life plans that I was able to do that. If you approach a conversation about death as wanting to know how to honour and respect the person you love in their final days, it’s much easier for everyone to talk and it creates a deep connection like few other conversations can.
Where is the best place to start with planning?
The best place to start is by having a casual conversation with family and friends. Throw around some ideas and find out what kinds of things they have (or don’t have) planned for their end of life. Talk with some experts as well, such as health professionals, funeral services and solicitors, who can give you more information, or do some online research. There are many different alternatives for funerals and wills than most people know about now.
Take some time to really think about what you want for your end of life. Your plan will change over time, so remember to update it after major changes in your life, like marriage, birth of children or separation and find out what the people closest to you want for their end of life too.
How would you advise starting the conversation with loved ones, it can be a difficult subject to broach?
When my husband and I had a conversation about our end-of-life plans, it was very casual and relaxed. It was like we were arranging a party! When I have talked with other family members, we’ve made it a dinner conversation, where we simply chat and share our views about cremation vs burial, our preference for coffins, church vs graveside service or even the beach or football field for some!.
We keep it light, fun and informative – I’ve actually enjoyed these conversations. I’ve discovered a lot about family members that I didn’t know before, like their all-time favourite songs, special places for them and long-held spiritual views.
Do you have any advice to give parents when it comes to choosing guardians?
There are many things to consider when choosing a guardian. Take some time to think through who can provide what you really want for your child:
• What parenting style do you want for your child?
• What values and beliefs do you want your child to develop?
• Where would you prefer they live?
• Do you want them to be with other children?
Also consider the impact of asking certain family members over others:
• Could the guardians manage the financial responsibilities of another child?
• What long-term plans do the potential guardians have?
• What could be the impact within your family of asking one sibling (or in-law) to be a guardian and not another?
• Could the age of the potential guardians impact their capacity to properly care for your child?
• Would it be better to ask close friends rather than family?
Then remember some general considerations:
• Have a back-up guardian, or two.
• Ask them in advance, in case they say no.
• Get it in writing.
• Update it regularly.
Can you tell us a little about the grief and loss support offered through Deb Rae Solutions?
Deb Rae Solutions can support people who are dealing with loss, or others who want to support someone who has experienced a loss. Through my website (www.debrae.com.au) they can get a copy of my book “Getting There”, which covers all the most difficult aspects of loss, including how to manage anniversaries, what to tell the kids and dealing with emotions such as anger.
There are also mini-guides which provide lots of support and strategies for individual aspects of dealing with loss. Lots of free factsheets and videos are also available on my website.
I also provide workshops and presentations for school or workplace groups who want to understand grief and loss better. Individual coaching services are available for people as they grieve, or to rebuild their lives after a loss.
Thanks for your time Deb.
You’re most welcome. Thank you for being part of Dying To Know Day and helping start more conversations.
For more information about the services offered by Deb Rae Solutions head over and check out the website: DebRae.com.au