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Coping with death

Getting the Hard Stuff Sorted

Thinking honestly about death poses lots of questions. Thankfully human beings have been dying for the whole of recorded history, so there are lots of answers to these questions. Of course, you need to find the answers that work for you and your family and loved ones, but the links below are there to get your started tapping into humanity’s collective wisdom on how to play the endgame.

Your feedback will help us develop this page into a truly useful space for sorting through the hard stuff around planning for the end of life, so please send us your questions and suggestions.

Where do I get help to deal with the emotional roller-coaster?

Human beings have been engaging with their mortality since the dawn of time, and not surprisingly we have learned many important lessons about how to “die well”.  However, no amount of theory can prepare us for the experience of confronting our own imminent death or that of someone close to us.  Even so there are some things we can do:

Find a skilled counsellor

This could be someone you know, like a pastor or psychologist, or your GP can recommend a professional.  It’s important to find someone with whom you can be completely candid, and say all the things you need to say.  It should go without saying that if at first you don’t feel the right “chemistry” with someone, you should move on and find another counsellor.

Try to develop an atmosphere of openness at home

Terminal illness can easily become a taboo subject, especially with small children.  But in most circumstances it’s helpful if you can talk openly at home about what is happening and what’s likely to happen next.  It may be that a doctor or counsellor can help with this, by briefing family members on the nature of the illness and answering their questions.  There could also be some practical issues as the household gets drawn into being the support team for a severely ill family member.  Being able to talk about things, ask questions, express preferences, voice fears, have a good cry and maybe even tell a few jokes is important for getting a household through what can be the most stressful time they will ever face.

Get busy with practical things

Nobody enjoys brooding on death (well, almost nobody), and one effective way of dealing with the emotional roller coaster is to occupy yourself with practical things, like your will or funeral planning, or seeing family and friends.

Find you own grieving style and get started

There are some well-attested “models” of the grieving process (such as the famous one described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) and it helps to see grieving as a process and a journey, and to bear in mind that your emotions will likely pass through a number of stages as you come to terms with what is happening to you.  However, these are only guides, and you’re free to do things your own way.  (Those around you will generally be very tolerant and allow you to grieve however you want.)

Some useful links

The Skylight Trust was set up to help children and young people cope with grief. Its website (www.skylight.org.nz) is full of helpful information, links, advice and resources.

Good giving

Many people want to leave a legacy that goes beyond providing for their families after they are gone.  But the desire the ‘leave the world a better place than you found it’ can come up against some difficult practical realities.  Starting up a trust to support the causes you care about passionately can be a major exercise (and does the world need yet another charitable trust to add to those already in existence?). And how can we be sure that money we leave to a charity will be wisely used on our behalf?

Philanthropy NZ has many good ideas about how to make a difference with your money, and how to avoid common pitfalls.  Check out their website www.philanthropy.org.nz and in particular their “thoughtful giving” page (http://giving.org.nz/thoughtfulgiving).

The Charities Commission has a register of all New Zealand charities, with basic information that will help you to assess whether a particular charity is in line with your values.  www.charities.govt.nz

If you are concerned about how to be sure you are giving to charities that are effective, there are several organisations that do regular evaluations.  Check out the website founded by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, which focusses on charities that work in the Third World (www.thelifeyoucansave.org/WheretoDonate.aspx)