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“Dying is something we need to plan for and should be talking about”

A former mayor who lost five people in less than four years has encouraged others to talk openly about dying so that their loved ones can make sure their wishes are honoured when they reach the end of their life.

Margaret Marks has spoken out in the run up to Dying Matters awareness week, which takes place between 13 and 19 May and aims to break down taboos around death and make dying well part of a good life. The campaign has been backed by an alliance of health and care partners across the county, including West Suffolk and Ipswich and East Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, Suffolk County Council and West Suffolk Hospital.

Margaret, who lives in Haverhill, lost her husband Tim, her mother, her daughter and two other people she was close to. She is now using her experiences to help others by volunteering as a grief counsellor and speaking about preparing for a good death.

“As a society, we need to start changing the way we think about dying,” said Margaret, who is a former St Edmundsbury mayor. “We shy away from the subject, but it’s something we all need to plan for and should be talking about.

“I’d urge people to sit down as a family and talk about everything from the type of funeral they’d like and whether they want be buried or cremated, to the music they want playing and the photos which are used. Planning can be a really positive experience which is empowering for everyone. It also ensures that the funeral is very personal to the individual, which is incredibly reassuring to those left behind and can make it easier for them to cope with grief. Very importantly, please make a will – the complications that arise from not having one are distressing and far-reaching.

“I was lucky as my father put all of the music he wanted playing onto a tape, so we never had to look back and wonder if we had got things right. Tim died very suddenly but I don’t have any regrets at all about his funeral – we played his favourite music and planned the day so that he was bought into the wake, which gave as many people as possible the chance to attend share their memories of him and say a very personal farewell. I also had the funeral videoed which was particularly comforting, as it helped me to realise the impact which he’d had on so many people’s lives.”

Margaret is now encouraging people of all ages not to be afraid to begin the conversation with those around them, while also stressing the importance of writing down their wishes and ensuring you know where to find all those vital documents.
“I always thought I was an organised person, but when Tim died I felt like I was walking through a fog,” she added. “That’s why writing down your wishes is so important.”

“The last thing you will ever do for the person you love is to give them a good send-off, and you need to get it right. You can only do that if you know what they want.”

For more information about Dying Matters awareness week, visit www.dyingmatters.org/AwarenessWeek

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