Topic 1: Why it's time to take ownership of our own death

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Apple founder Steve Jobs once famously said that remembering that you were going to die was the best way he knew to avoid the trap of thinking you had something to lose.

“You are already naked,” he said. “There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Despite the fact death is something we’ll all experience, though, it’s still a largely taboo subject in the Western world.

Yet in not speaking more often and openly about death with our loved ones, we are compromising the chances of our legacy being honoured the way we would choose. We also risk burdening our family with the responsibility for making complex decisions on our behalf at what will already be an emotional time.

Westpac portfolio manager and self-described ‘mortal realist’, Michelle Knox is calling for us to change that by talking more about death.

“So many of us don’t want to acknowledge death, let alone plan or discuss it with the most important people in our lives,” Knox said at one of the famous TED talks, sponsored by Westpac, in Sydney.

 

“But I want us all to talk about death more. If we do, we have a better chance of having a good death and helping survivors experience a healthier bereavement. It is time we started taking ownership of our finale on this earth.”

Knox was one of 15 speakers to take the stage at TED’s The Future Legacy event, where topics ranged from education and work-health balance to designer babies and the importance of smart conversations about death.

The self-confessed ‘master delegator’, planner and organiser, spoke candidly about the impact of death on her own team at work.

In the past 12 months, Knox and her colleagues had collectively lost five parents – including Knox’s own father – and a 41-year-old colleague. These sad shared experiences prompted many honest discussions among the team about dealing with grief and the processes associated with death.

While each team member handled their grief in their own way, they also had to muddle through the barrage of government agencies, hospitals, nursing homes, advanced care directives, funeral arrangements and all manner of details that need to be addressed upon the death of a loved one.

Knox shared the heartfelt story of her own father’s passing. When it became clear the end of his battle with progressive lung disease was near, he stated his three wishes very clearly.

 “He wanted to die at home, be surrounded by family and die peacefully,” she said.

“I’m pleased to say we helped Dad fulfil his wishes. Although my heart is heavy with loss, it is not heavy with guilt or regret. I knew what Dad wanted and I feel peace knowing I could support his wishes. It showed me just how much of a privilege it is to help someone exit this life in the way they choose.”

Although most of us would prefer not to discuss the issue, Knox said talking about death actually made life easier to live.

“We need to discuss these issues when we are fit and healthy so we can take the emotion out of it, and then we can learn not just what is important, but why it’s important,” she said.

Westpac’s range of checklists and resources around bereavement provides useful guidance for anyone planning for or dealing with the death of a loved one.

Do you agree with Michelle Knox’s views on preparing for death? Is the subject of death taboo in your family or do you talk openly about it? Does your family know your plans and preferences for when your life comes to an end?

Westpac has been proudly supporting Australians through all of life’s wonderful, agonising, and exhilarating moments since 1817.

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