‘It is a natural part of life’s cycle, but talking about it can be taboo’

The clinical team at HospiceCare North Northumberland.
The clinical team at HospiceCare North Northumberland.

As part of Dying Matters Awareness Week 2017, which runs from Monday to Sunday, May 14, HospiceCare North Northumberland is trying to raise awareness about the importance of talking about dying, death, bereavement and planning ahead. Reporter James Willoughby has spoken to the hospice team.

If there’s one statistic that cannot be challenged then it’s the fact that 100 per cent of people will die.

HospiceCare North Northumberland, which has centres in Alnwick and Berwick, has an ongoing mission to encourage people to talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement and to make plans for the end of life.

Sue Gilbertson, HospiceCare nurse and manager, said: “Talking about dying makes it more likely that you, or your loved one, will die as you might have wished and will make it easier for your loved ones if they know you have had a ‘good death’.

“While dying, death and bereavement is a natural part of everybody’s life cycle, it’s often taboo to discuss the D word.

“But talking about it will not make it happen tomorrow, just as not talking about it will make it go away.”

Experts say that you don’t have to be ill or dying to talk about it and put your plans in place. In fact, they say the sooner the better, as none of us know what lies ahead.

Having the so-called big conversation is unlikely to be easy, but it could be one of the most important conversations you ever have.

If you’re not comfortable having this conversation with a member of your family, you can still record what’s important to you in writing and share this with your GP or health-care professional.

Sue said: “It’s about sharing with family members and others close to you, as well as medical professionals, your wishes and preferences for when you approach the end of life.

“This allows you to have control over the care and treatment you receive whether it’s today, or in the future.

“Perhaps start by gently letting someone know what you want to talk about a few days or weeks ahead, as this will help them prepare for the conversation. It may be helpful to talk about your wishes in a series of shorter conversations, rather than one long conversation.

“Conversations can be difficult to get started, so you may find it easier to start talking about what you wouldn’t want rather than what you do want. Be clear about what you want and don’t give up as it may take a little bravery to begin.

“But please think about the big conversation. The more we can talk openly and make plans, the more likely it is that our wishes and preferences can be met when the time comes. We only have one chance to get it right.”

As part of Dying Matters Awareness Week, HospiceCare is asking ‘what can you do for yourself?’ with the aim of getting people more active in planning for dying and death and helping support those in times of grief and bereavement, be they friends, family or in your wider community.

Things you should consider include making a Will, planning your funeral, deciding on organ donation and planning your future care.

Putting an advance care plan in place can be an important step towards making sure that, at the appropriate time, the care, support and medical treatment you receive reflects your wishes.

The process of talking more openly about dying and discussing what you want in your plan can itself be therapeutic and help you to make the most of life and better support those close to you.

For guidance and support, contact the hospice by emailing nursingteam@hospice care-nn.org.uk or calling 01665 606515, For more details, visit www.hospicecare-nn.org.uk

All HospiceCare services are free of charge and a GP referral is not required.

○ The Dying Matters Coalition is led by the National Council for Palliative Care. Visit www.dyingmatters.org