Here is the full transcript of Michelle Knox’s Talk: Talk About Your Death While You’re Still Healthy at TED conference.
To kick the bucket, bite the dust, cash in your chips, check out, depart, expire, launch into eternity. These are all euphemisms we use in humor to describe the one life event we are all going to experience: death. But most of us don’t want to acknowledge death, we don’t want to plan for it, and we don’t want to discuss it with the most important people in our lives.
I grew up in an Australian community where people got old or sick and passed away, and only the adults attended the funeral. My parents would come home looking sad and drained, but they didn’t discuss it with us.
So I was ignorant to death and of the grieving process. At 15, I got my invitation. A dear neighbor who was like an aunt to me died suddenly of a heart attack, and I attended my first funeral and did my first reading. I didn’t know the tightness in my chest and the dryness in my mouth was normal. The celebrant got some of the facts wrong, and it made me really angry.
He talked about how she loved knitting. Knitting — He didn’t mention that, at 75, she still mowed her own lawn, built an amazing fish pond in her front yard and made her own ginger beer. I’m pretty sure “keen knitter” isn’t what she would have chosen for her eulogy. I believe if we discuss death as part of day-to-day living, we give ourselves the opportunity to reflect on our core values, share them with our loved ones, and then our survivors can make informed decisions without fear or regret of having failed to honor our legacy.
I am blessed to lead a wonderful, culturally diverse team, and in the last 12 months, we’ve lost five parents, including my own father, and most recently, a former colleague who died at 41 from bowel cancer. We started having open and frank conversations about what we were experiencing. We talked about the practical stuff, the stuff no one prepares you for: dealing with government agencies, hospitals, nursing homes, advanced care directives, funeral directors and extended family members, making decisions about coffins, headstones, headstone wording, headstone font size, all while sleep-deprived.