Dying Matters: The ‘death taboo’

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Patient and Family Support team Manager at St Clare, Joanna Petts, shares her thoughts on the ‘death taboo’ in the UK and why everyone should feel empowered and confident to engage in meaningful conversations with their loved ones
Talking about death and dying during Dying Matters Awareness Week 2018
Date published: Friday 11th May 2018 | 13:45 GMT

One day, I hope that death and dying will no longer be perceived as a scary thing at the end of our lives. My hope is that it will eventually be accepted as an inevitable part of life that can be approached as peacefully and as positively as possible.

Until then, we’ve got some work to do around challenging people’s perceptions of death and dying for the better…

The culture around death and dying in the UK

At the moment in the UK, the culture around death and dying remains a ‘taboo’. People are scared of it. We fear its inevitable approach, we evade its grasp for as long as possible, and we avoid talking about it at all costs.

Most of the time, our intentions are actually well-meaning. We sidestep around what we perceive to be its dark and looming presence because we don’t want to upset anyone – or ourselves.

It’s normal to avoid the topic; we’ve all done it

The good news is that this is perfectly normal. We all do it. We’ve all avoided the topic at some point in our lives. Even when it comes to talking about Wills, we circumvent the conversation as if we will be alive forever.

“There’s no need to think about that sort of thing yet – you’ve got ages left to live!”

Well, actually, it’s never too early to write a Will, or start thinking about what we would like to happen at the end of our lives. Death is something that will happen to us all, and for many of us, we have no idea when it will happen or what it will be like.

Dying is a failure

Death is seen as a failure, and the worst possible outcome of any situation – even when we know it is coming. It is so finite, and that scares us. There are no second chances when it comes to death. You only get one go at it.

The truth is that death is a natural part of life, and we can’t avoid it. The only thing that we can do is plan for how we want it to be.

Death is the final chapter of our own, personal story in life. The beginning, middle and end are all just as important as each other.

Dying Matters…

That’s why dying matters.

And that’s why the UK charity, Dying Matters, exists!

Dying Matters is led by the National Council for Palliative Care. Their ethos and aims are all around encouraging people to talk more openly about death, dying and bereavement. As well as supporting people in making plans for the end of life.

Every year, they hold an Awareness Week that aims to bring death and dying to the forefront of conversations across the nation. This 2018, the campaign will run from 14th – 20th May, addressing the question, ‘what can you do?’

So… what can you do?

One of the best things that you can do to alleviate fears and anxiety around death and dying is to simply talk about it. Communicate. Share your feelings and emotions. Listen to others.

Talking about what will happen at the end of our lives can help us to be better prepared for our final journey. There are lots of things to consider that you might want to have a conversation with a loved one about…

Making a Will, discussing what kind of care we would like at the end of our life, or planning our funeral arrangements can be a huge relief for ourselves and our families.

Often, having those meaningful conversations about death and dying with a loved one can help us to feel heard, cared-for, connected and emotionally safe. We all want to be understood and accepted.

“I don’t want to talk about death and dying…”

I know how difficult it can be to begin and engage in these conversations. It is not always easy! Yet, many people do not take action to think or talk about why dying matters. This is because they think it does not apply to them.

However, despite the fact that we don’t want to think or talk about death and dying: most of each have a quiet wish that we will die peacefully, and with dignity.

Having conversations and making plans are so important in bringing our hopes and wishes to fruition. We simply have to be strong and try our best to make those conversations happen.

But how?

Listening well and approaching conversations sensitively is always a good place to start. At St Clare, we encourage conversation – but at a time when that person feels ready to talk.

That’s why this year in celebration of Dying Matters 2018; we have developed a comprehensive and thorough guide to support you in having those important conversations.

Talking about death and dying does not bring death closer. Taking part in Dying Matters Awareness Week is about planning for life, and supporting yourself and your loved ones.

Resources


Front cover of leafletA Guide: How to talk about death and dying

This guide is for anyone wanting to have a meaningful conversation about death and dying with their friend or loved one.

View the leaflet Forward


Front cover of leafletInfographic: How to talk about death and dying

This infographic provides bitesize information about having a conversation about death and is designed to provide useful pointers.

View the leaflet Forward


We should all feel empowered and confident to talk about death, ask questions, listen, and be sure of what we and our loved ones would like to happen when our time comes.

However, it is not always that easy to have a conversation about death and dying. It can be upsetting and uncomfortable for many of us – but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Our aim is to offer support to people to approach and engage in those meaningful exchanges with friends and families, and to demystify the fear and anxiety around death.

This comprehensive guide on ‘How to Talk about Death and Dying’ offers reassurance, support and advice on having those important conversations with our loved ones.

We should also feel confident in asking the right questions, and challenging systems, organisations and health care professionals, about death and dying. It is all part of ensuring that our choices and wishes are at the forefront of our care and support when our time comes.

We believe that when we are able to face death openly, and approach it peacefully and positively as a natural part of life, we will feel empowered to live our days to the fullest. Talking about death and dying is the first step towards that reality, planning for life, and supporting ourselves and our loved ones.


Joanna Petts is the Patient and Family Support Services Manager at St Clare Hospice. Joanna has 25 years of experience of working in social care in a variety of sectors, and is a qualified social worker and practice educator. She has worked in health, hospital discharge, community, and drug and alcohol teams. She has run shelters for people whom are homeless and day centres for with learning disabilities. Joanna also runs local Death Café events. In her own time, Joanna is a biker, activist, and volunteers in community-led art projects and Love in Action groups.


Dying Matters

Dying Matters is a UK charity, led by the National Council for Palliative Care. Every year, they hold an Awareness Week that aims to bring death and dying to the forefront of conversations across the nation.

The campaign for 2018 addressed the question, ‘what can you do?’ encouraging the public to talk more openly about death, dying and bereavement, and supporting people in making plans and preparing for the end of life.

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