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Let’s open up discussion on a social taboo

Some people only start to think about practicalities of death following confirmation of a  terminal medical condition. Picture: Getty

Some people only start to think about practicalities of death following confirmation of a terminal medical condition. Picture: Getty

  • by LOGAN STEELE
 

Talking about how we relieve our loved ones of the growing burdens of funeral poverty is key, says Logan Steele

There are a number of challenges facing people as they get older that have traditionally been seen as taboo, particularly relating to the practicalities of the end of life.

If there is one certainty in life it is that death comes to us all, yet, as a society it’s not something we have traditionally talked about. It can be a sensitive topic but taking practical steps to plan ahead can be a very positive and life affirming process.

Indeed, we are seeing a distinct change in people’s attitudes. In our day-to-day contact with people at events such as The 50+ Show it is becoming less of a taboo topic. More and more people of all ages are realising the benefits of planning ahead. Organisations such as Living and Dying Well and Good Life Good Death Good Grief are helping to change social attitudes.

Some people only start to think about the practicalities of death following confirmation of a long-term or terminal medical condition. This can evoke thoughts on how they want to be remembered: burial, cremation, humanist ceremony.

Most families and societies have traditions. Some people have experience in making appropriate arrangements but some wouldn’t know where to start or have the faintest idea of how their loved one would want to go.

At Age Scotland Enterprises we run a programme of Afore Ye Go events around the country with organisations such as Solicitors for Older People Scotland (SOPS) and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau to offer advice and information for the over-50s, their families and others that work with older people.

We find that people are happy to receive sensible forward planning advice encompassing how to deal with illness and death in families.

The absence of a legal will can delay proceedings considerably and have a detrimental effect on families at a difficult time when trying to source funds for a funeral.

However, while there are no “official” statistics, it is generally thought about 60 per cent of adult Scots still don’t have one.

Increasingly people appreciate the peace of mind that comes with making arrangements, be that making a will, buying a pre-paid funeral plan, appointing Power of Attorney (POA) or making Advanced Directives (ADs).

Taking active decisions in advance allow end-of-life wishes to be granted or provide families with the legal right to act on your behalf. This ultimately will help avoid additional stress and trauma and could also have financial advantages.

Figures from the Office of the Public Guardian show an increase of 30 per cent in four years in the number of POAs being drawn up demonstrating that more people are taking control. Another practical option is to buy a funeral plan yourself. This puts you in control. It means arrangements are made the way you would want them, from floral arrangements and music to the choice of service.

Your loved ones won’t be faced with the practical nightmare that funeral arrangements often are, and can focus on memories and the grieving process.

Perhaps more importantly, your family won’t have to face the financial burden.

A lot of people don’t realise how expensive funerals can be. The average UK cost in 2013 was £7,500 and that it rising.

According to a Church of Scotland report published recently, costs for both burials and cremations have almost doubled in the past five years, putting considerable strain on grieving loved ones. Unfortunately, funeral poverty is at record levels as people have not made any provision.

A plan means the cost can be spread over several years and is fixed – it covers the cost of the funeral for whenever you die even if funeral costs rise in the interim.

Planning ahead, whether your family is aware or not, means you can live life more freely knowing they won’t have to face the financial and practical burdens.

We worked with one lady who didn’t tell her family she had made arrangements until after her funeral plan was paid in full. She wanted it to be a surprise.

That truly underlines the shifting attitudes!

Discussing death, illness and care provision used to be “off-limits” in polite society but this is definitely changing. It is not about being morbid. It is about taking the initiative now and making it easier to focus on the emotional realities when the time comes rather than leaving loved ones to deal with the challenges of practical issues.

• Logan Steele is general manager of Age Scotland Enterprises.

www.agescotland.org.uk

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