Vital for families to discuss death
Climbing Mt Tauhara seven times in one day to commemorate her dad dying of cancer seven years ago was adventure therapy for Taupo¯ woman Tilly Stevens.
The anniversary trip was two years in the making, and when she first came up with the idea it was only five trips. Somewhat daunted by climbing Mt Tauhara seven times in a day, she reduced the challenge to climbing continuously for seven hours. Tilly shared her day on social media, with friends joining her on all but one trip.
“Even though it’s been seven years ago that Dad died, climbing Tauhara was my way of processing things. It was nice to share the experience with friends. As we walked, we chatted about people we had lost.”
Starting at 5am on Monday November 26, by mid-afternoon Tilly had climbed the mountain five times, averaging 1.5 hours per trip, even carrying a friend’s baby half way up. One year the former ironman competitor climbed the mountain 42 times and another year she climbed it 60 times.
“On trip number five I felt I hadn’t finished the mission, it just didn’t feel complete. So I came home, picked the kids up from school, went to swimming lessons, cooked dinner and started on the sixth trip. I finished the seventh at 9.45pm.”
Her father was not an adventurer and Tilly says she is not even sure he would ‘get it’. But she did the challenge for herself and to encourage people to talk about death. Their family experience of her father dying was a classic case where he wanted to die at home but didn’t know how to bring it up with the family. Not wanting to be a burden he volunteered that maybe he should just go to hospital when it was time, but revealed his preference was to die at home. He got his wish, but Tilly says a lot of elderly people make decisions around their care because they feel they have to take a certain path and don’t realise they have options.
Tilly now works as a clinical education administrator at Lake Taupo¯ Hospice, volunteers on the hospice Bereavement Team, and does volunteer work for St Andrew’s Church Growing Through Grief programme.
“I have heard older people say their middleaged children shut them down when they broach the topic of dying. My message is there needs to be a social change in our attitude towards death. Families need to discuss it with one another.”
She recommends having a conversation with the dying person beforehand and involving the wider family.
“Find out what what is important to them, how they want their funeral handled and what they want to happen to their body.”
She says some families really need to ‘bash it out’, and get all the details, while others are happy to make a general plan.
“If you turn up at hospital with an Advance Care Plan then you have a better chance of getting what you want. Preferably this should be written down.”
Tilly strongly recommends appointing an Enduring Power of Attorney containing care preferences, in the event you lose the ability to speak. She challenges parents to talk about organ donation from a child.
“If you are the parent and your child is in intensive care, then it is very stressful to have the question of organ donation posed to you for the first time.”
She says if the topic of death is approached tactfully and respectfully then families can familiarise themselves without upsetting anyone.
■ Buy a Christmas Bauble and support Lake Taupo¯ Hospice this Christmas. The baubles are for sale at Farmers for $10, and this year’s bauble is designed by 9-year-old Myesha whose story highlights Hospice’s family support teams.
Tilly Stevens on her wedding day in 2007, pictured with her father Dennis Baker, then aged 62.