Dying Matters Week: The way we talk about dying matters

Between 6-12 May 2024, we are joining Hospice UK’s annual Dying Matters Awareness Week to promote the importance of talking openly about death, dying and grief. This year’s theme is “The way we talk about Dying Matters” and our Lead Counsellor, Janice, has shared her thoughts on starting conversations about death and dying, and the language we use.

“Talking about death and dying can be one of the most difficult conversations to have, especially with our loved ones. People can worry about starting these conversations as they may not know how people will react, whether they will upset or offend them. This often means people become anxious about what to say and how to say it, worrying about what they might hear and whether they will be able to manage the emotions of a loved one’s feelings and fears.

“Talking about death can be scary and challenging, which can create barriers to patients, families and health care professionals having open and honest conversations. It is really important that everyone can talk about death and dying in a way that works for them. Open conversations can help people to plan ahead. It means people can, if they choose, talk to those close to them about what kind of funeral they would like, what music to play at their funeral, where they would like to be cared for or how they would like to be cared for. Choices like these are personal and different for everyone, and it is important that everyone is given the opportunity to make their wishes known if they choose.

“Having clear and honest conversations is crucial to good end of life care. As part of Dying Matters Awareness Week, Hospice UK conducted a survey that found 36% of the people that responded said that they were “left with some uncertainty” about the likelihood of their loved one dying after speaking with health care professionals.

“At the hospice, we know the language we use is an important part of getting this right. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this and everyone is different. However, as a counsellor I understand the importance of ensuring people get the information they want without any uncertainty.

“We live in a society where many people do not use direct language for death and dying. It is not unusual for people to replace those words with euphemisms such as ‘passed away’ or ‘they have gone to sleep’. These might feel like a milder, less harsh having this conversation, but can be confusing. Children may expect to find someone who is lost or even become afraid of going to sleep for the fear that they might die, or people may leave a conversation with false hope. In these situations, I think it is important to use words like ‘death’ and ‘dying’.

“Talking openly about death can help people to feel a bit more prepared and get any support they need. Approaching and engaging in meaningful conversations with family, friends and healthcare professionals can help to alleviate fears and reduce anxiety around death, making it less of a taboo.”

Our thanks go to Janice for contributing to this year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week.

For more information and resources, please visit Hospice UK’s Dying Matters website.

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