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Reform Magazine | December 1, 2023

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Not if, but when

Not if, but when

Why we need to make plans for the end of our life, by Sue Walker

I thought I knew my husband of 33 years quite well. Because I want to be cremated when I die, I assumed that he too wanted to be cremated. But when we had a conversation about it, he was horrified that I’d made that assumption. He definitely wants to be buried. When I pointed out to him that he’d never told me that, his retort was that I’d never asked him! Fair enough, I suppose.

Can we talk about our own death? If we can’t, how will we make any kind of plans for what will happen to us at that time? We may have particular desires for our death: the kind of care we want to have when we’re dying; where we would like to be cared for; who we want to have with us or who we definitely do not want to see; what we want to happen to our body; and a whole host of other things. There is, nowadays, no agreed normal procedure to follow when someone is dying. You wouldn’t know for sure what someone wanted at the end of their life unless they had articulated their wishes. If we fail to tell people what we want to happen, they may arrange something we don’t want. Knowing we’ve made our wishes clear may bring us some peace of mind as we approach the end of our lives.

There could be risks in talking about our end-of-life wishes: we might find it difficult; our relatives might get upset; or we might not have the faintest idea of how to go about such a task. But our wishes will become clear to those we are leaving behind and they will have the satisfaction of knowing they have ‘done right by us’. We could have the satisfaction of knowing that we’d had some influence over the inescapable fact of our death. We could rest in the knowledge that we had helped instead of making things difficult for others.

Many people, even those who know they will die soon because they’ve been given a terminal diagnosis, never get around to talking about their wishes with people who could do something about it. They run the risk of not getting all manner of things that might be important to them, including their preferred medical treatment and their preferred place in which to die.

If you don’t tell people what you want, they will have to guess. No doubt your loved ones will try to do their best for you, but they may make all manner of assumptions about what they think you want…

Sue Walker is the United Reformed Church Area Minister for North and Mid Staffordshire. This article is an edited extract from the Grove booklet Talking About End-of-Life Wishes: Not if, but when, available from


This is an extract from an article published in the September 2021 edition of Reform

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