Talking about dying can help someone with a terminal illness to express their concerns and fears and help them to make plans for what’s important to them. It can bring up uncomfortable emotions for you and for the person who is dying, but there are things you can do to make the conversation easier and more meaningful.
The World Health Organisation defined palliative care as:
‘The active and total care of patients whose disease is not responsive to curative treatment. Control of pain, of other symptoms and of psychological, social and spiritual problems is paramount. The goal of palliative care is achievement of the best possible quality of life for patients and their families’
Death remains a little bit of a taboo subject in our culture today but it was not always the case. In 1901 the average life expectancy was 48 and in this Victorian era, people understood that death was a part of life, they confronted their mortality and talked about it. A survey by Dying Matters in 2015 reported that 72% of the public believe that people in Britain are uncomfortable discussing dying, death and bereavement. End of life care is about making sure that the person is comfortable, without pain and other symptoms associated with dying.
In caring for a person who is dying and their families what causes the most anxiety is not knowing what to expect as a person dies and what they are required to do after death. It is too easy to avoid talking about these things because we know it will be upsetting or out of a misguided sense that we must remain upbeat and positive. Families always appreciate knowing what to expect in the last moments of life, that what they are hearing and seeing is normal.
The best way to ensure a good death is to talk about it. Where would you like to be, what and who would you like around you. Don’t avoid having those difficult and emotional conversations
Professor Mayur Lakhani, a practising GP and Chair of the Dying Matters Coalition, added: “There are encouraging signs that talking about dying is becoming less of a taboo than previously, but too many people are continuing to avoid facing up to their own mortality and are not putting plans in place.
“The public and health professionals alike need to become more comfortable talking about dying and discussion options for end of life care. We know that many people have strong views about their end of life wishes, but unless they talk about them and plan ahead they are unlikely to be met.”
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