• Gemma Allen

Dying Matters Dudley, Creating Conversations and Death Friendly Communities

Dying Matters Dudley, Creating Conversations and Death Friendly Communities

#death #dying #bereavement #DyingMattersDudley #AreWeReady

20 March 2019

by Gemma Allen, Dying Matters Dudley/ The Mary Stevens Hospice

Why is talking about death and dying such an uncomfortable topic?

Why we are happy to share birth stories with near strangers, yet not speak openly about end of life wishes?

Is it the fear of upsetting others, or superstition of tempting fate?

This is not just relevant for the public. At a recent conference, a newly qualified GP stated ‘I just do not want to upset my patients, I do not know how to have the conversation, how do you ask someone where they want to die and what their wishes are?’

If we turn the clock back to the Victorian Era one could say they had a morbid fascination with death, dying and grief, creating customs and practice toward the philosophy of a ‘good death’. Grief was a natural part of life, people were encouraged to demonstrate they were in mourning, even tying black ribbons around the necks of pet dogs and chickens. Queen Victoria wore mourning attire for forty years following Prince Albert’s death, until her own death in 1901. Post- mortem photographs were popular, with the deceased posed in a realistic environment amongst family members, often this would be the only photograph families would have together. Death doll kits were available for young girls; these dolls complete with a coffin and mourning clothes, helping them ‘train’ for future death rituals.

So what changed?

With the launch of The National Health Service in 1948 death became more medicalised, with more people dying in hospitals rather than home, and gradually the girls trained for home death rituals, the original birth and death doulas, were no longer needed and death was managed and ‘dealt with’ away from the public eye. Hushed conversations took place away from the dying person, children were ‘protected’ from death. Gone the days of the deceased in the front room, with family and communities less likely to provide end of life care. Steadily the death culture shifted from being a normal part of life to a cloaked, uncomfortable subject.

Dying Matters Dudley is a collaborative group of individuals and organisations with the overall aim of lifting the lid on death and dying, often a taboo subject. We want to encourage and support our Dudley community to have open, honest conversations around preparing and planning for end of life. We want to achieve this in a non-clinical way, enabling people to support one another and become a death positive community.

The network formed May 2018 with realisation and a collective view that together we could have a greater impact and reach more people. With thanks to funding from Dudley Clinical Commissioning Group we have different activities and resources planned for Dying Matters Week 2019 including a website, theatre production, touring camper van and promotional resources. A variety of events and engagement will hopefully inspire rich conversations through arts, literacy, and crafts.

The ‘Diary Rooms’ camper van, complete with video pod is touring the borough for three days and in this time visiting a community centre, day service for people with learning disabilities, hostel, college, and local parks and towns. Three Death Cafes are taking place across the borough libraries, including one aimed specifically at young adults, Dying Natters- a conversation café at H Porter and Sons funeral directors include activities for pre-school age children, ‘Call the Soul Midwife’, coffin decorating and more. A lecture ‘Life’s hard and then you die’ is being presented at Mary Stevens Hospice and a weeklong Dying Matters hub at Dudley Group of Hospitals will encourage conversations between health and social care staff. The week’s finale is the theatre production ‘The Birth of Death’, in which Joanne Tremarco, a spiritual fool, lucid dreamer and doula, will guide the audience over to the other side to tackle ‘death’ - the elephant in the room.

We hope the launch of Dying Matters Dudley will inspire other groups of people to work together, not work in isolation or presumptions it is a topic and conversation restricted to those working in palliative care. Death and dying is everyone’s business, after all it is the only certainty we have in life, we will all one day die, let’s make sure we get it right.

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