Talking about Good Death: Marriage and Mortality

By 26 May, 2016Thoughts

My husband, Andy, and I got married five months ago.

Now I’m planning his funeral.

No, wait; this isn’t a tragic post. Andy is still very much healthy, alive and kicking (it’s funny because he is literally beside me right at this moment playing FIFA on his PS4).

But I am planning his funeral, and he is planning mine. We also talked about handing over our plans to a trusted friend (who will hopefully outlive one of us), so that the surviving partner has someone else to carry out the funeral plans eventually.

We told a couple of friends about this little funeral planning we have and they all said, “OMG WHY SO MORBID?”

Andy and I met in Hollywood 3 years ago at the Association of Death Education and Counselling (ADEC) conference. I was a wide-eyed Singaporean newbie in palliative care and he was the cool Canadian speaker with tons of academic titles hanging down from his conference pass. We spent two beautiful days in Hollywood together before we flew back to our own countries. One year later, he left his home to be with me in Singapore, and another year later, we got married in an exciting month-long celebration that spanned across two continents and three cities.

Like a fairytale come true, our friends say.

How to talk about death with your partner

Marriage and Morality

Yet, happily ever afters do come with a price – couples committed to each other for life will often experience the death of one partner eventually (and yes, water is wet).

The loss of a partner you have loved and lived with and grown to depend on for many things can be and is often devastating. The loss of a lifelong partner can bring about more losses – the loss of identity as a spouse, the loss of income, the loss of healthy, homemade meals, the loss of a cockroach killer in the house… the list is extensive. Life for the surviving spouse will be changed in many ways, and these changes will have to be dealt with simultaneously with the loss.

We were on a long, creaky subway ride in New York City one night when I turned to Andy and asked, “If I were to die, what would be different for you?”

He raised his eyebrows at me and gave the automatic, sensible reply, “I would be miserable for a long time.”

“Yes, yes, I know,” I said, brushing aside his anticipated emotional grief (rather insensitively, now that I think about it). “But what else would be different? Like, if you died, I don’t know what’s going to happen to housing, nobody’s going to wake up and cook breakfast for me, when I have a nightmare and wake up at 3am, nobody’s there to make me feel safe, nobody is going to help me pack my luggage, and oh my goodness, can you please not die before me?”

And that was how the conversation began.

Since then, we have talked about different issues revolving our deaths intermittently, and we know that this discussion is not supposed to be limited to a one-time affair. Life changes and so do attitudes and concerns. There are practical matters like CPF money and housing and wills that need thought and time to be settled. Meanwhile, these random yet intentional conversations remind us ever so often of how lucky we are to have each other, and all the big and little things we do for each other everyday that celebrate our love. They remind us of what is to come, and of how important it is to cherish every moment together while it lasts.

Talking about the death of your partner is not particularly pleasant. Yet, it is an essential and highly overlooked part of the promise of growing old together. Growing old together doesn’t just mean good travel memories, buying houses and cars, and having children and grandchildren. Growing old together also means possible illnesses, disabilities and certainly death. Perhaps if we begin to better understand what a tremendous impact our lives (and deaths) have on the men and women who have pledged their lifetimes to us, we would take the vow “in sickness and in health, till death do us part” much more literally.

And perhaps if we realized that talking about death could be incredibly life-giving even after death itself, we would be more inclined to begin one of the most important conversations of our lives with our partners.

Start with a simple question today.

“If I were to die, what would be different for you?”

 

About Geraldine Tan-Ho

Geraldine is the Executive Director of LifeLAB Institute, an initiative aimed at abolishing the taboo of death and encouraging meaningful dialogue on life and death issues through mindfulness and creative expression.

2 Comments

  • Bernice Ma says:

    Geraldine
    You guys are really great that I think this is the most meaningful topic to talk about in a relationship.
    Envy much !

  • Thank you Bernice for your kind words! Andy and I hope to encourage more couples to start this conversation early. Do look out for future articles on suggestions on how to facilitate such conversations with your loved ones 🙂
    Geraldine

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