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In the past few months, death has become a greater part of public life, with so many families sadly losing loved ones and with the media focus firmly on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But are we getting better at talking more openly about the ‘taboo’ subject of death or do we still hold back because although we’re comfortable with it, we fear others aren’t?

We’re firmly behind the national annual Dying Matters Awareness Week campaign (11 – 17 May) to encourage more honest talk about death, dying and grief, recognising that this helps those affected feel listened to and understood.

To mark this year’s campaign – Dying to be Heard – national charity Hospice UK has revealed new findings from Savanta ComRes that show that 72% of those bereaved in the last five years would rather friends and colleagues said the wrong thing than nothing at all, and 62% say that being happy to listen was one of the top three most useful things someone did after they were bereaved.

Meanwhile, a recent local survey carried out on behalf of St Luke’s, found that just 24% of those polled said they felt ‘very comfortable’ talking about death.

With many people facing the unexpected death of loved ones due to COVID-19, Hospice UK is calling for people to take courage and speak to people about death and bereavement to support those in our society who are dying or grieving.

Tracey Bleakley, CEO of Hospice UK, said “What these findings show is just how important it is for us all to talk about death and grief, particularly when as a nation we are facing higher numbers of unexpected deaths as a result of COVID-19. These issues sadly have a taboo about them, which is unhealthy and can leave people suffering in silence. We owe it to each other to take part in these conversations. So many people are dying to be heard, and we all need to listen.”

In an additional new poll from Opinium on the public’s reaction to COVID-19, while 71% of people agree with the lockdown restrictions, nearly half (48%) said that not being able to see someone before they died or attend a funeral would make it harder to accept the reality of the death. This poll also found that 62% said that not being able to see a dying person before they died would cause a lasting sadness, and one in six (59%) said that they would want a celebration of the person’s life after the lockdown is lifted.

In addition, the survey found that more than 11 million people – 1 in 5 UK adults – have put in place advanced care plans (ACPs) in case they fall ill because of COVID-19, or plan to do so.

As part of our service, we encourage people to create an ACP, a personal statement of wishes that can ensure – as far as is practically possible – that their wishes are respected and acted upon should they be too ill to speak up for themselves in their last days. Having an ACP can bring increased peace of mind not just for the person concerned but for the loved ones around them, too, making a very stressful time that little bit easier.

We also provide emotional, practical and spiritual support for those whose loved one had links to our service before they died.

Jutta Widlake, Head of Social Care at St Luke’s, said: “As a society, we don’t discuss death openly, and because people are living longer most of us don’t experience the loss of someone close to us until we’re well into midlife. Death is a normal part of life though, and we shouldn’t feel held back from talking about it because we fear others might feel uncomfortable if we do.

“As the national survey results show, silence isn’t always golden because most bereaved people welcome friends’ and colleagues’ efforts to help, even if those people are afraid of saying the wrong thing. So, taking that step to express your support – and being there to listen – are among the most important things you can do.”

You can pledge to take part in a conversation about dying, death or grief, either initiating it or taking part if someone else starts it. An online pledge wall and other ways for people to share their pledges can be found here.

For more information www.dyingmatters.org or www.stlukes-hospice.org.uk/acp

It’s straightforward to do and saves your loved one’s unnecessary distress at an already difficult time, yet many of us have not made a will. In fact, in the UK 77% of parents with children under five do not have one*.

With this in mind, St Luke’s is encouraging people to make the most of its Make a Will Week (11 – 15 May), when 11 local solicitors are giving their time free of charge to create or update wills in return for a donation to the charity.

Having a will can help bring you peace of mind, knowing that when you die your wishes will be carried out. Not only does it make it less stressful and time consuming for your friends and family to sort everything out, a will avoids everything you own being shared out in a standard way defined by law, which might not be what you want.

Making a will is especially important if you have children or other family who depend on you financially, or if you want to leave something to people outside your immediate family.

It is also wise to have a will if you own a business – whether in partnership or as a sole trader – stating how you wish the business to be administered in the event of your death. Failure to do this will result in a delayed or protracted process that can result in your family receiving less money than if you had a will in place before your death, or not being able to access equity in the business at a time when they might need it most.

The companies taking part in Make a Will Week include McClure Solicitors, who kindly provide this service all year round in aid of St Luke’s. Other participating firms include: Beers LLP Plymouth; Bright Solicitors; Evans Harvey; Fursdon Knapper; GA Solicitors; Gard & Co; Kitsons; Start Point Law; The Will Centre; Wolferstans, and Woolcombe Yonge.

Speaking about the event, St Luke’s Business Fundraising Manager Nicola Keen said: “Whilst were stuck inside, doing our bit to help during this pandemic, it’s a perfect opportunity to catch up on those jobs that we just keep putting off. Our Make a Will Week is a great time to make or update your will, especially if your marital status has changed, you have moved to a new house or recently added to your family. The best part is all of this can be done online, over the phone or via video call!

“People often forget that it is not always about sorting out the financial aspects. A will ensures your final wishes are clear. Your possessions and property are going to the right place, and the family and children you leave behind will be looked after.”

In addition to the donations it receives through its Make a Will Week, St Luke’s also receives support from those in the community who leave a legacy to the much-loved charity in their will. This generous gesture helps ensure that future generations of local families affected by terminal illness will be helped by St Luke’s expert compassionate care when they need it most.

To make an appointment to create or update your will between 11 and 15 May, simply contact one of the solicitors taking part to make an appointment, quoting ‘St Luke’s Hospice Plymouth Make a Will Week’.

More information can be found here.

*Source: Russell & Russell Solicitors