“If I knew that I could die, I would live.”
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.”
The first sentence is Terry Pratchett’s – the prolific, talented author who passed away two months ago. He had dementia and was a campaigner for the right to assisted suicide. He wanted to choose when to shake hands with Death (one of his characters) before the illness got the better of him. In the end he didn’t need to. His time came at home, surrounded by family, his cat sleeping blissfully on his bed.
The second is the opening line of Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow – on the wonder that is life.
I’m referring to them because they remind us that, because we are alive, we will die. One day. They tell us that we must embrace life. It also means we have decisions to make.
A couple of months ago my beautiful cousin died. She was in her thirties. It turns out she had a very rare type of tumour growing in her brain. Suddenly it all made sense – why she’d never been able to ride a bike, or hit a tennis ball back. This tumour had been part of her for most of her life. Then last month a family friend passed away – one who was old enough that her daughters were grown. She was full of life – the last person you’d think would die soon – and then, one night, her brain haemorrhaged and she was lost. She’s the second person I know to go this way. Hers was a sudden and unexpected death, very different to my cousin’s.
Death can come at any time.
Why am I sharing this? Because it appears safe to say that at least 50 per cent of people with children under the age of 18 don’t have a will. If you are a Muslim, the laws of your religion govern who gets what, but if you’re not and you die without a will, you have no say in who inherits your assets. Imagine your current partner and co-parent of your children finding out upon your demise that a previous spouse is the beneficiary of your life-insurance policy. Paperwork must be updated to reflect changes in circumstances.
But this isn’t my focus today.
A will needs to address other things too, such as the end of your life. What if you are put in a vegetative state? Do you want to stay hooked up to life-support? What if your brain worked, but little else? Which songs will be played and food eaten when people say goodbye to you?
No wonder so few have this spelt out – it can be overwhelming and very emotional. I have decided that I want to go in peace, if I’m lucky enough to get to choose. A bit like Pratchett. It’s what doctors order for themselves. They go gently.
Doctors know all about what’s medically possible. They also know what people’s biggest fears about death are: dying in pain and dying alone. Their last experience won’t include someone breaking their ribs from attempts to resuscitate them with CPR (this is what happens when CPR is done right). And when you know that a 2010 study shows that out of 95,000 recipients of CPR only 8 per cent survived for more than one month, 3 per cent of whom could lead what could be considered a normal life – you too might choose to mark yourself as a no-code, which means no CPR is to be administered.
Imagine you’re taken into hospital unconscious. Your family is distressed and tell the medics to do everything possible. Is this what you want? To be cut open, tubes fitted, hooked up to machines – no matter the outcome – or do you want everything reasonable to be done? You need to define these things.
Many an article tells us how to get our financial paperwork in order. I’m asking you to also think through, decide and make official what you want done with yourself as well as your estate. Don’t burden your loved ones with this. You deal with it.
We’re all going to die. Make it a good, peaceful, problem-free death – for you and those you leave behind.
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org