When faced with trauma, the front part of our brain, where rational thinking lives, shuts off. Our ability to process information, reason or even understand what is being said, may be severely limited. You may become disorganised and overwhelmed. You may not be able to speak with clarity, or even at all.
You will agree that this state, is not a good state for planning how to move forward. Yet somehow, we find it difficult to plan for our own death or the death of a spouse before trauma is present. Our culture has largely sterilised or removed death. Yet, we must bring ourselves to think of death. To talk about it, however difficult. Because every one of us will die. Our parents, our children, our friends and all our colleagues will die. It is not an eventuality; it is a certainty.
Why do we wait until we have no choice, until we are overwhelmed by the trauma of it before we talk about death or believe that it can happen? Why not plan to die well? Why not plan to make our wishes known and write out action steps before everyone freezes up?
When we sit in front of clients to plan for death, it too is sterilised in the way everything around death is. We call it estate planning. But even that does not avert the trauma; avert the knowledge that death calls, whether we are given a warning period of grace or not. Especially as grace is a gift not offered to everyone.
I had to sit with a dear client in such a meeting recently. We were all in shock. All traumatised. Even for me, the professional in the room, it was difficult to string two words together. Eyes averted, swallowing down the potential ugly crying and working against the need to collapse into a mutual puddle, we talked through the planning. It was messy and complex, hard and horrible, unimaginable but real. It had to be done and sorted out. Without delay. So that we could go on with the business of living, with whatever time was left.
Honestly, we do not have the imagination for what it will feel like and what the real implications will be until we are in the trauma. But the lesson is, do not leave the planning for when you are in the trauma and rational thinking is severely compromised. Because we can, at least, try to imagine the unimaginable. And plan for the certainty of death.
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