Dying Matters Awareness Week 2024 - Blog | Our News

Dying Matters Awareness Week 2024 - Blog

A male and female standing, holding mugs and smiling. Dying Matters logo in the top right.

Trigger warning: this blog references death and terminal illess.

This week is Dying Matters Awareness Week. Communications and Engagement Officer, Sophie, has been reflecting on how working with terminally ill people changed her perspective on having conversations about death:

"It’s safe to say death and dying aren’t popular conversation topics; most of us would actively avoid talking about them because we find them upsetting and uncomfortable.

In fact, society can be so uncomfortable talking about death and dying we don’t even use direct language to address it. We use phrases like ‘kicked the bucket’, ‘is no longer with us’, ’popped his clogs’, ‘passed away’ … which just makes the topic even more taboo.

I used to talk about death to strangers every day, and it changed my whole perspective on death being a taboo subject. I was naïve to the subjects of death and dying, advance care planning, and what people’s wishes would be when it came to their end of life. My most profound experience of death came when I was 18 years old, and a close family member died after a long battle with cancer. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced, and ultimately became a defining moment for the path my life would take. When the opportunity arose a few years later to record the life stories of people receiving hospice care I knew it was going to be a job I could be passionate about – I was able to use my journalism degree to directly help people who were terminally ill.

The first time I sat with a patient to record their life story, I went to the toilets afterwards and cried. I was not a nurse or doctor, and I was not mentally prepared for what a visceral experience it could be to talk so candidly with someone who knew they were going to die soon. But at the same time, I felt comforted by how at ease this person was with the looming inevitability of death. It occurred to me that for this individual recording some of their memories for their loved ones to listen back to was an act of closure – they could embrace death knowing that they had created a way for their memories, and their voice, to continue on after they were no longer earth-side. (Look at that, another idiom to refer to death!)

I spent 4 years recording audio-biographies with people who had terminal and life-limiting illnesses and the more people I met and spoke to, the more comfortable I became talking about death and dying – it is a guaranteed fact of life and while it’s a tough topic, it shouldn’t be something we’re scared of addressing. I’d be lying if I said I never went to the toilets for a cry afterwards, because I most certainly did!

There’s no escaping death, it’s going to happen to us all, so maybe we should embrace it more readily? And maybe we should be more direct in the language we use – fear of a word increases fear of the thing itself.

My own take-away from working in an environment where death is ever-present was to talk to loved ones about the tough stuff so no one is left guessing or wondering if they’ve fulfilled your wishes.

  • If you could choose, would you want to be in hospital, at a hospice, or at home when you die?
  • What would you want your funeral to look like? The flowers, the music, the location…
  • Do you want to be buried, cremated, or have a natural burial?
  • If you have a Will, is it up to date?

Some of these topics are more difficult to think or talk about than others, but they’re all important to address. There really is no time like the present to have these conversations with those closest to you."


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