May 19

Are we ready to talk about death, dying and bereavement?

Posted: 15 May 2019

This week is Dying Matters Awareness Week (#DMAW2019) – a week aimed at encouraging people to talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement, and to make plans for their end of life.

Thousands of adult social care workers are involved in supporting people at their end of life, but many of us feel uncomfortable talking about death and dying.

This #DMAW2019, Claire Henry, Independent Consultant and former CEO of the National Council for Palliative Care, poses the question ‘are your staff ready’ – ready to talk about death with the people they support, ready to support people at their end of life and ready to support family and friends to deal with the loss of a loved one?  

“As care workers, we use conversations to find out about the people we support – what’s important to them, how they’d like us to support them and what their wishes are, including around their end of life.

“These conversations are central to delivering person-centred care and support, and so all social care workers need to be ‘ready’ to have them. We don’t naturally find it easy to talk about dying and death, but this is something that social care workers could face on a regular, if not daily, basis. For example, you could be involved in developing an end of life care plan, providing emotional support for someone who’s approaching their end of life, or supporting a family member who’s lost a relative.

“As an individual, as an employer, as a manager, as a team – whoever you are – I challenge you this week to think about ‘are you ready’ to have these conversations? And if not, what can you do to help?

“Here are some of the things that I think can help.

  • Learning and development around end of life care – not just the ‘practicalities’, but around, for example, communication skills and bereavement. This will help you to feel more knowledgeable and confident to support others.
  • Know what support is available for people thinking about their end of life, and where they can go for more help. For example, their local GP, support group, palliative care teams and Care Choices are all useful sources of information.
  • Think about your own wishes for the future. If you can think about your own death, it can help you to feel more comfortable talking to others about theirs.  Sharing similar stories or wishes, if you feel comfortable to do so, can help you to have open and honest conversations.

“I think this last point, in particular, is an important one. If we want to encourage others to talk about dying and death, we need to be open to the ideas ourselves.

“So, let me start this off by sharing my own wishes for the future, and what it means for me to ‘be ready’.

“I’m a very practical person, so for me one of the most important things is sorting out the practicalities – I’ve written a will, I have life insurance, I’ve started thinking about my funeral and I’ve considered who my last power of attorney could be.

“I’ve also thought about who I’d want to spend my last months or days with, and where I would like to be cared for and by who.

“My thoughts and feelings to these questions have changed over the years, and that’s fine. For me, it’s a work in progress, just like life itself.

“We’ll never truly be ‘ready’ to die but having an open dialogue can really help, and I urge everyone who works in social care to ask themselves how they can ensure they’re ‘ready’ to do this.”

Find out more

Supporting someone who may be approaching the end of their life can be the most challenging work that any social care or health worker faces. This means that staff need the right skills and knowledge to do their job competently and confidently, and the right learning and development can help.

Our resources will support adult social care staff, and their managers, to develop their skills and knowledge in end of life care.

Visit our 'End of life care' webpage for free resources and guidance.