Last August I gave a talk at Ignite Phoenix After Hours on why death is something we, as a society, need to discuss more openly. The talk, and what happened afterwards, hit me rather hard so I haven’t discussed it much since.
I believe there is nothing more precious or personal than our own lives, and we should have the ability to end our lives with dignity whenever we deem it is no longer worth living. We cannot have strong Right To Die or Assisted Suicide laws unless we discuss this openly.
I also believe that many people needlessly take their own lives in moments of depression or despair, when they think there is no one who can help them or understand. We can save lives if people feel more open about discussing thoughts of suicide with those they love.
I’ve spoken many times in front of crowds, but my talk at Ignite Phoenix After Hours was the toughest I’ve ever given. There is no video, but you can read the bulk of what I said on my earlier blog about choosing to die. The talk itself went well, but as I came off the stage I was not prepared for the reaction.
Nearly twenty people approached me that night. One woman worked in a Hospice. A man was caring for his terminally ill mother. Another woman had attempted suicide when she was younger and knew how hard it was to talk to people. People kept coming up to me with their stories until I left the venue and went home to collapse.
They talked to me about it the next day. The next week. Nine months later, I had someone come up to me out of the blue at a grocery store and thank me for my talk. I was overwhelmed.
It kind of spooked me from posting anything more about the topic, which is ironic given the message of my talk. I didn’t want to become “that guy who always talks about dying”. I also felt woefully unequipped to respond to some of the powerful things people were sharing with me. Even though I knew most people just wanted someone to listen to them who understood, it was still very difficult to do.
Which is part of the whole issue here, right?
There is nothing more intimately, mortally personal than our own experiences with death, and I stood up as someone willing to talk about it. It doesn’t mean the topic came easy to me. I carry around a lot of the same cultural baggage on this topic as everyone else. It just means I’m willing to try and work through it, and be willing to listen when others want to talk.
And I encourage you to do the same. If you make it clear to the people you care about that you are willing to talk about suicide, living wills, euthanasia, and end of life care, you may be surprised who you find in your life that really wants to have that conversation.
In my Ignite presentation I referenced the powerful BBC documentary, Choosing to Die, in which author Terry Pratchett grapples with his own thoughts on suicide in the face of advancing Alzheimers. The entire video is on Vimeo, and you can watch it below.
In Terry Pratchett: Choosing To Die, He explores the realities of medically assisted death. Having been diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's disease in 2008, Terry considers how he might choose to end his life as his condition progresses. In a moving documentary he meets those who, like him, would like to control the way they die including a men suffering from degenerative conditions and he is with a British motor neurone sufferer as he carries out an assisted death at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.