A MAN whose wife died aged just 35, is supporting a new campaign to get people thinking and talking about death, dying and bereavement.

Chris Yard, a father-of-three from Charminster, is backing the campaign by Marie Curie, the UK's leading charity for people living with a terminal illness.

He is urging people to plan for the end of life before it's too late and says that our reluctance to think or talk about dying and death means many of us are deeply unprepared, and risk leaving loved ones distressed and confused.

Chris's wife Erin was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 and died just three years later, in June 2017. She was cared for by Marie Curie Nurses at home for the last month of her life. Chris and Erin were determined to be honest with each other throughout Erin's illness, and as open as possible with their three children, Javen 18, Zak,14, and Amelia, five.

Chris, 39, shares his story for the first time since his wife’s death to support the campaign:

"Very early on in our relationship, we spoke about funerals and what we wanted, nothing too serious, we would hear a song and say "I want that at my funeral", sometimes this led in to a lengthy discussion about our plans. After Erin was told that she only had months to live, she started to write a list of her wishes; she didn't want it all left to me as I would have a lot to do. Erin was exact about how the funeral should be. She picked out the songs - Hotel California, Give me a Reason and Conquest of Paradise and said she didn't want anyone wearing black.

"She told me she wanted to die at home – we had been in our house for 16 years, it's where we brought up our children, and it's where she wanted to be. We even spoke about me meeting someone else one day, and she told me 'not to leave it too long.' I think I just looked at her a bit shocked and laughed it off. She was always thinking about me.

"Erin was very close to her parents and younger sister. I promised her that I would make sure they always saw the kids and carried on playing a big part of their lives. The children knew they could ask us anything and we would do our best to answer their questions. I've carried that openness on since she died.

"I would urge anyone out there to make sure you write down all your ideas, even if they don't get used, you can talk about them, but in the days after someone dies you are full of emotion and may not remember what has been said. Start with a list of songs you enjoy or mean a lot to you, also think of poems that you like, Erin wanted 'Do not stand by my grave'. After Erin passed away, there was a lot I had to sort out, so I was grateful and relieved that we had sat down and discussed Erin's wishes, she even wanted me to release a bird of prey after her service.”

New research commissioned by Marie Curie found that only 38% of people surveyed in the South West had talked to a family member or friend about their wishes for when they die and a quarter (24%) said they had not done anything to prepare for their death.

The research found that not being aware of someone’s final wishes, left those bereaved finding it difficult to cope with emotional wellbeing, financial matters, funeral arrangements and other issues as a result. A quarter of people (25%) surveyed in the South West who weren’t aware of all of their loved ones’ final wishes experienced regret over unresolved feelings or things left unsaid.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of Marie Curie said: "Our ageing population means it is increasingly important for families to have conversations, share their wishes and be prepared so that they have the best chance of a good end of life experience for themselves and those they leave behind.

"While most of us say we are comfortable having these conversations, the reality is that many of us are not making any preparations as it feels a long way off or something that will cause unnecessary upset both for us and the people around us.

"But we need to plan more for the end of life, while there is still time to do so. Having these conversations early can be easier than having them when we, or someone we love, is dying."

Since Erin died, Chris has started fundraising for Marie Curie, Chris said:

"As Erin's illness took hold, I realised I couldn't do all of her care myself. Every evening a Marie Curie Nurse would come, just for an hour or two, but it made a huge difference. They were superstars. They were kind, patient and professional. I decided to do a 50-mile cycle and a skydive to raise money for Marie Curie as a way of saying thank-you for everything the nurses did for us. I raised over £3,000 and got to tick something that Erin and I had dreamt of doing off our bucket list.

"I've signed up to the 2020 London Marathon as this is another thing that both Erin and I wanted to do before she got ill. I'm not built for running, but I do like to try new challenges."

Marie Curie has created a wealth of materials to help people plan for the end of life, wherever they are in the process, including free conversation starter cards, checklists and inspiring articles and resources at www.mariecurie.org.uk/talkabout. 

If you have been affected by terminal illness and need support, please contact the Marie Curie Information and Support Line Marie Curie for free by calling 0800 090 2309. Alternatively, you can chat to us online at mariecurie.org.uk/support.