10 Nov 2014

Shining light on the taboo of death

9:35 am on 10 November 2014

The woman behind the Crimestoppers phone line is turning her attention from tackling crime to one of New Zealand's biggest taboos - talking about death.

Woman aims to tackle New Zealand's last taboo - death.

Woman aims to tackle New Zealand's last taboo - death. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Jude Mannion said most New Zealanders are not prepared for their own death, especially the country's baby boomers.

"We are pretty spoilt really - a lot of people say that baby boomers are teenagers who have never grown up - so why don't we choose to have a little bit of control, a little bit of choice, a little bit of decision-making on how we leave this world and everybody in it."

Ms Mannion wants to help remove the awkwardness surrounding death and dying, and has launched a survey to find out how prepared New Zealanders are to face death, including planning for their funeral.

She said people often feel liberated once they put plans in place.

Sam Durbin completed a masters at Auckland University looking at the impact of social media, namely Facebook, on the grieving process.

He said social media is now another tool people can use to express their grief.

"There is a great opportunity to confront death a bit more - because it is a part of life - you know, the old saying about death and taxes being the only two certainties of life? Well, I think that death and Facebook must be the two certainties these days."

Mr Durbin said Facebook can provide a digital space for people to use to remember the dead, including setting up an online memorial.

Wellington funeral director, Michael Wolffram, has been in the business for the past 40 years.

He said he used to hear stories of people crossing the road to avoid having to talk to a funeral director but attitudes have changed.

A Waikato Kaumatua, Jack Cunningham, who is in his 70s, said he had seen some big changes as the country becomes more multicultural.

He said when he was a boy there was a perception among Maori that some Pakeha treated death in a cold and reserved way but that had changed.

He said the tangi is becoming more common among Pakeha and more Maori are accepting cremation as an option.

However Mr Cunningham said most New Zealanders, including Maori, still do not plan enough for their own deaths.

Ms Mannion said she hoped the survey will begin to change that.

[To participate in the survey go here http://www.goodgrace.co/survey/]