16/05/2019 | Press releases

“If we planned death as well as we plan births, it would be far easier to talk about”

A community nurse who works for ESNEFT has stressed the importance of good communication and education around dying as part of a campaign designed to get people talking about death.

Charlotte Stanley, from the Woodbridge Community Nursing Team, has shared her thoughts during Dying Matters Awareness Week, which runs from 13 to 19 May. The week aims to help break down taboos by encouraging people to talk about their wishes at the end of their lives so that dying well can become part of a good life.

Here is what Charlotte said.

“As community nursing staff, we have many responsibilities during end of life care, from discussing sensitive issues around individual care preferences, to educating family and those important to the patient on how we can holistically support their needs and provide compassionate care at the very end of their life.

“There is no simple solution to discussing care for a dying person. Unfortunately we now live in a culture where communication around this subject has become very difficult. Death was once a subject we all knew how to manage within our homes and discuss with ease; however the subject has progressively been passed onto medical professionals over time, meaning we have become far more detached and not so closely connected to what happens to us at the end of our lives. Society appears to be under the impression that as medical professionals we can fix most, if not all health problems, but as nature intended, we cannot.

“Death is not something we can fix but it is something we can make better. Just because we cannot fix it, doesn’t mean we have failed as professionals. Our role is to provide the best possible holistic end of life care.

“If we discussed and planned death as well as we plan births, then death would be a subject that is far easier to talk about. They are both very natural events that inevitably happen in our lifetime.

“As part of the ‘Living well, dying well’ training I have recently been lucky enough to attend, our trainer Hermione told us that “although death is ok, it is not always fair for those left behind”. However this is something I feel we can all contribute to improving by providing better education and breaking down the barriers of communication on this subject to allow people to talk about death and dying and make plans before it’s too late. Time allows us to come to terms with a prognosis and to discuss difficult subjects such as ‘do not resuscitate status’ and our preferred place of death.

“Experience appears to be a key concept of how people feel confident enough to assist grieving individuals. Although we do need to retain a certain amount of trust in the “not knowing” aspect of death.  We will never fully know everything there is to know around death and we must acknowledge that it goes beyond our everyday life experience and ability to comprehend, it’s a mysterious territory. We need to be able to step back and look at the bigger picture and say “this is a natural process”.

“But in addition to this it is important to acquire enough knowledge to be informed, to allow us to make the right decisions in good time. As a nurse I feel this is something many of the patients and families we meet are lacking, general knowledge around death at a time it is most needed. This can be a very unnerving situation to find yourself in, at a time when you should feel empowered to make informed decisions rather than responding in the moment “the best we can”. Experiencing death as a close friend or family member can become a huge learning curve, causing so much stress at a time that could be better spent concentrating on what’s important to your loved one.

“Talking about dying is companioned with emotion of the deepest sense, and having to face that emotion takes so much courage, but it is essential to changing the way our culture sees this subject as a taboo. We need open and honest conversations to start happening, even when we think we are protecting our loved ones by not talking about this, yet in the long run we are making the situation worse.”

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