Today is National Dying to Know day. It sounds dark and morbid, and though some aspects of relating to death are, it’s also about empowering the living and bringing awareness to encourage all Australians to take action towards more open and honest conversations about death, dying and bereavement.

There were events run across Australia, and in Melbourne, Federation Square was filled with booths and speakers talking about the all aspects of death, showing their support to something that will inevitably happen to all of us.

So why is it important to talk about death? For the mere fact that Australians are not dying the way they want to – “75 per cent of people want to die at home, but less than 20 per cent of people get to”.

Dying to Know Day hopes to bust the myth that death is taboo, that no one wants to talk about it to plan for it.

We aren’t planning well for death, statistics show that less that 10 per cent of Australian’s have advance care plans. What many lack is death literacy.

Death literacy is the practical know-how needed to plan well for end-of-life. This includes knowledge, skills and the ability to take action. Increasing Australia’s death literacy is imperative to improve the quality of life right up to our last moments and to feel empowered in the way we die.

Another aspect of embracing death is to embrace life. Karen Bolger, a music therapist from Calvary Health Care Bethlehem spoke at Dying to Know Day.

She talked about the most impactful death in her life, at age 11 – her grandfather. She said she didn’t recall him being ill and to her the death was sudden, but her parents informed her that his long illness was never hidden from her or her sister. She wrote him a eulogy that was read at his funeral.

At such a young age she was adamant that, when the time come for her own funeral, people “should wear bright colours, share happy stories and celebrate my life – not grieve my death”.

Today, Karen dedicates her life to helping the dying with her music as a music therapist.

“Even now when I talk about what I do for work, people look at me with a mix of confusion and disbelief and horror to say, “so you play music for people who are dying…but isn’t that a bit depressing?” – but the thing is, it’s not”

“I have sat in hospital rooms packed with people sitting around a bed with someone in their final days, everyone unsure of what to do, or what to say or how to be around each other and suddenly everyone is laughing about so-and-so who always got the words a song, or how such-and such couldn’t dance”

“I have also come to appreciate just how precious life is knowing your days are finite brings into sharp focus the things that matter in life and from what I’ve seen it’s not usually the type of car you own, or the amount of money you have made, or the hours you spent at work.”

“It’s the time you spend with people you love, sharing in the things you love, and sharing in their happiness at the things that they love and that is a lesson we can all benefit from no matter how far or near our own death is.

“So, what I have learned in my nearly 15 years of working in palliative care is that spending time with people who are dying, being exposed to death, or talking about dying, doesn’t make life depressing, it makes life more precious”.

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