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Dublin: 1 °C Tuesday 16 January, 2018
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'What would you tweet from your deathbed?'

A conversation between 300 people – about dying.

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THE LOTTO NUMBERS.
A quote from Yeats – the ‘Horseman, pass by’ one would be good.
I wasn’t finished.

Those were some of the answers given by people when asked what they would tweet from their deathbed. Another woman remarked: “I’d have to learn to tweet first.”

They were drinking tea and eating cake, and having a conversation about death at – naturally enough – a death café.

shutterstock_145128664 Source: Shutterstock/amenic181

It was my first time at a death café – and also my first time at a conference where a box of tissues was provided on each table in the not unlikely event of tears.

As one of the organisers was later overheard saying, she got some strange looks when buying 38 boxes of tissues at a shop.

It was extremely refreshing to be in a place where people talked so openly and frankly about the regularly-occurring, yet not often-discussed, issue of death.

As a conversation starter, post-its were placed under our seats. They asked us several things, such as if we want to be buried or cremated, or if we would like to know how much time we have left if we find out we have a terminal illness.

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burial

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More than 300 people gathered at Dublin Castle on Thursday to discuss death as part of a conference organised by the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF).

It was a diverse group – healthcare professionals, people who are ill, people who are bereaved or soon will be, and the bald woman who had to repeatedly explain to well-meaning strangers she has alopecia, not cancer.

Open foot, insert mouth

At a workshop on grief, Dr Susan Delaney of the IHF told participants they will never become comfortable with death but can become more comfortable with their discomfort.

Delaney noted that many people avoid going to see a friend who has been bereaved because they don’t know the ‘right thing’ to say, but noted: “There’s often nothing nice to be said” when it comes to terminal illness or death.

She said people should not stay away from a bereaved person for this reason – rather sit with them, offer to do the shopping, let them shout, or watch TV – whatever they need at that moment.

Something people should definitely NOT do is tell the person what they should do or let them know ‘things could be worse’.

‘I tried step-dancing and it really helped me, you should give that a go’ is not helpful, for example. Try ‘How are you? What can I do to help?’ instead.

Delaney noted that some people may be inclined to tell a person whose child has died they know of someone who lost three children, adding drily: “I’ll raise you two children.”

‘Bereavement dance’

Grief is not a competition and everyone experiences it differently.

so sorry Source: EmilyMcDowell.com

Delaney noted that women are often more comfortable than men when it comes to opening up about their feelings – and this is not always a good thing.

She recalled once asking a man how a grieving male relative was doing, only to be told: “I don’t know, we just watched the match.”

As a woman and a psychologist, I just thought that was very unsatisfactory.

Sometimes, she added: “Words are overrated.”

On other occasions, the person will want to talk. This is when we should “show up and shut up”.

It’s all part of the ‘bereavement dance’, she explained, where the person who has been bereaved may move erratically from being fine to far from it. You just move with them – sometimes you’ll be out of step and sometimes you won’t.

Talking about death is difficult so the Irish Hospice Foundation has tried to make it easier with Think Ahead. The initiative encourages people to take the time to put in writing what they want to happen when they die. More information is available here

Read: ‘My family and I have had many conversations about my impending death’

Read: ‘Life as I knew it is falling apart’: Woman shares beautiful letter after her dad’s death

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