Let’s talk about death, baby*

A not-insignificant part of my week has been taken up discussing the aftermath of loved ones dying.

As part of our continual reassessment of the free advice guides we supply at Age UK, we run focus groups with older people to ensure we’re covering the right topics.

With information about money there’s little room for leeway, but an emotional topic like bereavement often requires more consideration.

Thus, I’ve run two workshops with small groups in both London and Norwich encouraging people to openly discuss their feelings and how they coped after someone close to them died.

Taboo subject

Death is an odd topic. Most of us hate speaking about it. In spite of its inevitability, it’s a ‘big’ issue that either manifests itself in complete avoidance, or else the phrase ‘Oh, you don’t want to talk about that!’

But actually it’s exactly what we should be doing. Not only before we shuffle off – in order to plan and get your affairs straight – but also after the event when those left behind are at their most raw and exposed.

Everyone we spoke to agreed that – no matter how hard it can be – talking about the person who’s died and also your own feelings is the way through it.

Confront – don’t avoid

If you’ve been through a bereavement, one of the most excruciating parts is when you first encounter others after the death and you know they’re worried about you crying and – in many cases – they visibly avoid you.

To some extent that’s natural because many of us haven’t been through a similar experience, but what we really want is for someone just to offer a few words of condolence, ask how you’re feeling and then treat them as normal.

Bereaved people don’t sprout horns or wings – they may just be a little more sensitive than usual.

So the next time someone you know loses a close relative or friend, do the right thing and just talk.
*With apologies to Salt ‘N’ Pepa

The dark days of December

Every year – as the lights start to twinkle and music turns to bells and jingles, – my thoughts nearly always begin to head in a darker direction.

The rational side of my brain tells me that I have a lot to be thankful for; I have a job I enjoy, I have my health, a family I love and who loves me in return.

And yet, and yet. 

My body and brain begins to be seized by a malaise that defies rational thought. It tells me I am – contrarily – alone, unloved and destined for failure and ruin.

On the face of it, I appear unperturbed. In the office I continue as always – laughing and joking, happy to be the butt of jokes and giving as good as I get.

To friends I bump into around town, on my commute or social media, I exchange pleasantries and give the ‘same old, same old’ sort of replies.

I know most people would probably happily listen if I gave the time, but that’s yet another consequence of the illness – an assumption that you’re not worth bothering with or talking to. 

After all, who wants to listen to a torrent of ‘poor me, poor me’?

Given time, I know I’ll come out the other side. Not stronger. Not even necessarily weaker. Possibly a little dimmed.

And always resigned to the knowledge that the same thing will happen again.

Roll on spring with those daffodils and gambolling lambs ?

Why Millennials, Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers have reached their sell-by date

Stereotypical image of an older woman and younger woman in a business environment
I stumbled across an article last week, mentioning a term that was new to me, yet simultaneously enraged me: Xennial. 

Apparently, Xennials are people who straddle the Generation X and Millennial generations – born between 1977 and 1983.

The term has been ‘invented’ specifically to accommodate a group of people who don’t feel as if they fit into the X or Millennial bucket…

And this neatly sums up my irritation with the lazy way we ‘label’ people and why it has to end.

Let’s just examine this for a second: you take a group of around 7m people (in the UK) who were born between the mid-1960s and early-1980s and apparently they’re all meant to think and do things in the same way?

This group covers people who would have experienced punk at the age of 13, as well as those who experienced Pulp’s Common People and Oasis’ Roll With It at the same age. 

How can they be similar?

Baby Boomers are no different. My mum is at the front end of the so-called Boomer generation, who turned down tickets to see The Beatles live. A fellow boomer at a comparable age would had to turn down a Duran Duran gig.

Like each other? I think not…

And yet these ‘buckets’ of people are used widely – and very often pejoratively – to describe how the UK acts and thinks.

Millennials are regularly tarred with the ‘lazy’ brush, for some inexplicable reason. Boomers are all rich, while Gen X-ers are sceptical risktakers. 

As data allows us to be more nuanced about what people think and want, can we not expunge these lazy, wholly-inaccurate phrases from our language?