For the last few years the term 'dying matters' has been increasingly heard – in the media, in health and care settings, and in local communities generally. This week is Dying Matters Awareness Week and events are taking place all around the country to promote this. But does this mean that there is a sense, for some at least, that dying doesn't matter?
I don’t believe that this is the case; dying matters enormously. And if you look around you will see, increasingly, people publicly acknowledging this.
Ever since the national outpouring of grief following the death of Lady Diana, the nation has become accustomed to public expressions of grief – the laying of flowers in public spaces, of signing books of remembrance, of the televising of funerals such as those of George Best and Whitney Houston, and also a move towards the arranging of more elaborate funerals for their own family members.
Plan ahead now so grieving can take precedence later
What we’re not so good at is taking matters in hand or planning ahead.
The loss of a loved one is a time of psychological distress, trauma and shock; and all this at the same time as the likely upheaval of more practical aspects of life (finance, accommodation, work, care, etc). And yet we are forced to make big decisions - to gather resources, both mentally and practically, that we may not have.
The Dying Matters message is that if we can manage, in some small part at least, to have made some of these decisions, plans and arrangements in advance then we will be in a better position to cope with these practicalities when the time comes, and to make sure our choices are followed.
Here are five key things we can do in advance, and some advice from our Family & Bereavement Support team on how and when to do them.
1. Make a Will
This can help ensure that the wishes of the person who is dying are followed and that their property, finances, etc go to the right people. It can also help to reduce pressure and possible conflict amongst the family.
2. Appoint a Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney (PoA) - which can include several appointees - can be appointed either for property and finances or for health and welfare decisions, and is important if the person who is ill becomes unable to make decisions for themselves.
The PoA, usually someone who knows the person well, can then legally make decisions on the person’s behalf.
3. Make an Advance Care Plan (Advance Statement of Wishes)
If a person becomes unable to make their wishes known, an Advance Care Plan can help both PoAs or health and social care teams try to make sure that the care and treatment they provide and the decisions they make are carried out in accordance with your, or your loved one's, wishes.
4. Discuss the funeral
This includes not only the details, such as the music, but also how it might be paid for. Whilst people are now being encouraged to tell their family and friends what they would like their funeral to be like, this can place a huge responsibility on them if sufficient funding isn’t available. Also, some people really don’t mind too much about the details of their funeral (perhaps with the exception of whether to be cremated or buried) and this is fine, too.
Talking about things beforehand can help make sure that everyone knows what the person wants and where the money will come from.
Talking is key. Whether it’s to family, friends or the different professionals involved with helping all these different arrangements to be made, it is important in sorting out the practicalities, but can be very helpful in making people process their feelings and realise they are not alone - and that decisions around dying really do matter.
Head of Family Support - Wheatfields Hospice
Chris worked as a social worker in the hospital team for Leeds City Council before joining Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice in 2004. She provides support to patients and their friends and families, both emotionally and practically.