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Why Is It So Important to Talk About Dying?

Although someone in Britain dies every minute, many people risk missing out on having their end of life wishes met and leaving a mess behind for those close to them because of a reluctance to talk about dying, death and bereavement and make end of life plans.

That’s why the Dying Matters Coalition was set up by the National Council for Palliative Care in 2009, with a remit of raising public awareness about the importance of talking about dying, especially amongst people aged 55-75 and GPs (as after family and friends it is GPs that people most want to turn to for information on end of life issues).  With over 17,000 members, including probate specialists, charities, care homes, hospices, doctors, hospitals, funeral directors and major employers including BT, Dying Matters is active across England in working to break down barriers around end of life issues.

New ComRes research released in May, coinciding with Dying Matters Awareness Week, found that although more than half of Brits (54%) have been bereaved in the last five years, discussing dying and making end of life plans remains a taboo for many.  Yet despite a reluctance to talk, most people can see the benefits of more open discussion about dying: 78% of the public and 88% of GPs agree that if people in Britain felt more comfortable discussing dying, death and bereavement it would be easier to have our end of life wishes met.

Our research found that just over a quarter of people have asked a family member about their end of life wishes and less than a third have talked to someone about their own end of life wishes.  As probate specialists know only too well, only 37% of the public have written a Will. Moreover, just 31% have registered to become an organ donor or have a donor card and a mere 8% have written down their wishes or preferences, should they become unable to make these decisions themselves.

It is not solely the general public who are failing to talk about dying or set out their wishes.  Only a third of GPs have asked a family member about their end of life wishes and 35% have talked to someone about their own wishes.  Just 56% of GPs have written a Will, almost half have not registered to become an organ donor or do not have a donor card and only 7% have written down their end of life care wishes or preferences.  It would be interesting to know if members of the legal profession are any more willing to talk about dying and death!

Despite, or perhaps because of, the reluctance of many to discuss end of life issues or set out their wishes, most of us do have serious concerns about end of life issues.  82% of people said they would be concerned about being a burden on those close to them if they were dying, and nearly three in four would be concerned about what would happen to their family after their death.  Bereavement support was also a major issue, with just one in four people who have been bereaved reporting that they received the support they needed.

Talking about dying is rarely easy, but unless all of us become more adept at doing so it’s hard to see how we will get our wishes met when we are alive or avoid leaving a mess for those who have been bereaved.  Writing a Will can be a really important step, but we really need to go beyond this if we are to get our wishes met when we’re alive, including about how and where we want to be cared for when the time comes.

Members of the legal profession have a key role to play here, not least by engaging with people who have come to write a Will or who have been bereaved and not shying away from conversations which may be difficult.

For more information about how to join Dying Matters or to access a wide range of free resources aimed at making it easier to talk about dying, death and bereavement, please visit www.dyingmatters.org.

Joe Levenson is Director of Communications at the Dying Matters Coalition and can be reached on j.levenson@ncpc.org.uk.

Kings Court Trust is a member of the Dying Matters Coalition and firmly supports their mission to increase openness and change attitudes towards end of life issues. If you have been recently bereaved and would like clear and understanding advice on what to do next, please call our estate administration specialists on freephone 0800 014 7334.