Talking about End of Life – Dying Matters Week 2024

A conversation with the Practice Development Team

This years’ Dying Matters Awareness Week focuses on the way we talk about death, the language we use and the conversations we have with one another, especially between healthcare professionals, patients, their carers and families.

Hospice UK says;

“By focusing on language, we’re aiming to empower people to feel more confident when talking with their healthcare professionals.”

We spoke to our Practice Development team to see what they had to say on the importance on talking about end-of-life care and dying.

Debbie Jones, Practice Development Lead said:

“In our experience, talking about end-of-life can be a really empowering process, allowing people to feel heard and for them to have the opportunity to ask questions and find out more information about the things they may feel they need assistance with. It can be equally as therapeutic for families and the people important to the patient, as they may feel reluctant to initiate the conversations themselves, therefore if a professional facilitates these conversations, it can provide opportunity for relatives etc to be involved in future planning and to really understand what their loved ones want and need. This can avoid any confusion further down the line, when the person may become more unwell and unable to articulate themselves.”

Homeless Palliative Care Coordinator, Kelly Barrow also joined the conversation.

“When individuals communicate their end-of-life wishes to their loved ones, it can profoundly alleviate the burden and uncertainty for family members later on. Knowing exactly what a person wanted can provide a deep sense of reassurance and comfort during the grieving process. Moreover, engaging in these discussions offers an opportunity to resolve any lingering issues or express sentiments that have been left unsaid. It’s about bringing everything into alignment, ensuring that both practical matters and emotional needs are addressed. While these conversations may be emotionally challenging, the peace of mind and clarity they provide for all involved make them incredibly worthwhile.”

Associate Practice Development Facilitator, Michelle Williams works closely with carers within the local community. Here, she shares her advice on how to start a conversation about end-of-life.

“My top tips for setting up a conversation about end of life are;

  • Make sure you feel prepared to have a conversation with someone about their end of life wishes and feel able to support the person to manage the emotions this may bring up.

  • Take time to think about the environment; a private quiet space, if possible, where there is unlikely to be interruptions.

  • Allow enough time for the conversation to happen and be honest about any time limitations you may have.

  • Ask the person if they would like someone else to be with them for support or if they would prefer to talk one to one.

  • Pick up on body language and cues and signs about how the person is feeling, this will help to judge the situation.

  • Give permission for the person to end the conversation if it isn’t the right time.

  • Finally, think about how the person would like to proceed. Do they give permission for you to share what they have told you? Would they like to document their wishes? What will be the follow up?”

The importance of having these conversations cannot be underestimated, Associate Practice Development Facilitator Lesley Dewhurst says:

“It’s important to dispel myths about someone dying, remove the taboo and to acknowledge that dying is a natural process and nothing to be scared of. It allows everyone involved in that persons care to know what the individual wants to happen or in some cases not to happen. For that person to still have a voice when they can no longer speak.”

For more information on Dying Matters Week, visit their website.