Michelle Knox never knew she was ‘good’ at talking about death until her father passed away.
That’s mostly because she hadn’t ever really had to speak about it before. But when her beloved dad became seriously ill and died shortly after, Knox became somewhat of an expert on the topic – not because she wanted to. Not because she enjoyed it. But because she had to.
In the past 18 months, Knox and her work colleagues had collectively lost five parents – including Knox’s own father – and a 41-year-old colleague. These sad, shared experiences prompted many honest discussions amongst the team about dealing with grief and the processes associated with death.
“Being able to share what I’d learnt and help others gave me a positive purpose when I really needed it,” Knox, a Portfolio Manager at Westpac told Mamamia.
Having lost her father to progressive lung disease, Knox learnt that death takes on a life of its own, and that the best way to deal with it is to plan. Last November, she decided to share the lessons she has learned in a TED Talk held in Sydney.
“Talk about your death while you’re still healthy” was the topic of her speech. It resonated enormously with the audience – and went viral when it was posted online, watched nearly 1.2 million times.
Why was a normally taboo topic was so well-received?
“Because whilst no-one likes to think about it, death is a universal experience,” Knox says. “And it’s the most challenging one that many of us will face.”
In her talk, Knox addresses the common aversion to the topic by asking each of us to reflect on our core values around death and talk about the subject while we are still healthy. She says that a “good death” can reduce any additional stress, particularly financial pressure, on loved ones at what is already a difficult time.
“I want us all to talk about death more,” she says in the speech.
“If we do, we have a better chance of having a good death and helping survivors experience a healthier bereavement.”
Knox explains that when her father fell ill, he made it a priority to get organised.
“Life would be a lot easier to live if we talked about death now,” Knox says. “We need to discuss these issues when we are fit and healthy so we can take the emotion out of it – and then we can learn not just what is important, but why it’s important.”