Living with Dying

Practical matters

Many people discussed practical matters, such as sorting papers, making a will, planning their own funeral and burial, donating organs for research, adapting the house, or moving to another location.

Several people emphasised the importance of making a will, especially those who had experienced the difficulties of people having died without a clear will. A woman whose father died of motor neurone disease said that the family had had various difficulties because of the way in which his will had been written, and advised others to take care making their will.

People prepared for their death in other ways. One man had made very detailed notes to enable his wife and daughters to understand their financial affairs. A woman whose children were still at college was anxious to ensure that they would be financially secure until they finished their education. A man who had mesothelioma was determined to survive, but he transferred the house and other assets into his wife's name in case he died.

A man with prostate cancer talked about an “inbuilt need to leave things squared up and tidy”. He had written letters to various people, made a will, and generally tied up “loose ends”. Having done that he felt better. Another man sold his precious books. He wanted to make sure someone bought them who would appreciate them. He also sold his shotguns because he didn't think he would be able to use them again.

A man with prostate cancer had made a very simple will, which would be tax efficient for his wife and children. He had also made suggestions for his funeral, and had nominated someone to make a eulogy.

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Some people wanted to sort out emotional matters. They took the opportunity to settle disputes or write letters to their families explaining how much they meant to them. One man described such a letter, which took several days to write, as the most difficult letter he'd ever written. A woman with lung disease had tried to prepare her children for her death. She had written letters, telling them that they shouldn't feel guilty when she died, that it was alright to feel angry, and that they should allow themselves to cry (see 'Talking to children' and 'Thoughts about suicide, assisted dying and euthanasia'). 

People who talked about their funerals usually wanted to have celebrations and bright clothes rather than gloom and mourning. A man described how he had found out about a humanist service (see Natural Death Centre and British Humanist Association). A woman with ovarian cancer described a lovely party she had held which she saw as a pre-funeral event that she could attend.

A few people discussed their burial plans. One man planned to be buried with his wife, while another person hoped that her ashes would be scattered in the sea 'with the dolphins'. A man who had originally thought he would like a natural burial had decided since becoming ill that he would prefer a local cemetery.

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Some people were keen to leave their bodies for medical research (see Human Tissue Authority) A man with multiple sclerosis had left his brain and spinal cord to a London hospital. A man who was dying of bladder cancer had been in touch with the professor of anatomy at the local medical school, who had told him that when the time came an undertaker would remove his body at no expense to his relatives.

One man wanted to donate his body, but found it difficult to obtain information about the correct procedure.

Some people adapted their houses to make it easier for them to stay at home. They also altered their gardens to make them maintenance free. Others moved to a more convenient location, such as a ground floor flat. One man, with pancreatic cancer, worked hard repairing his house so that he could sell it and move to a smaller cottage or bungalow, where he thought his wife would find it easier to cope after his death.

Planning a funeral with other members of the family may provide an opportunity for the family to talk about death and to acknowledge what is happening. However, not everyone had found it easy to talk to their families about their death, and so had been unable to make plans for their funerals, or even in some cases, make a will. Sometimes they were waiting for the right moment, or putting off a painful task.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated May 2010.


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