Sunday 25 August 2019

'Death chat, cake and a cuppa' - Hospice foundation say we need to talk about death and dying to our loved ones

Event: Rebecca Lloyd, from the Irish Hospice Foundation. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Event: Rebecca Lloyd, from the Irish Hospice Foundation. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Alan O'Keeffe

When the time comes to die, some 80pc of people say they would prefer to die at home. Yet only 25pc of Irish people achieve this.

"People need to start talking with their families about death and dying," said Rebecca Lloyd of the Irish Hospice Foundation.

Too many people fail to make clear their wishes about their deaths, which creates problems for loved ones who can make the wrong choices, she said.

Distressed family members should not end up being obliged to discuss important matters around a deathbed or have disagreements in a hospital corridor, she said.

She led an event entitled 'Death chat, cake and a cuppa' that brought people together in Dublin last Thursday to break the taboo about talking about death.

"What we are trying to do is take away the fear and the anxiety, which is natural and normal, that we have around death," she said.

The event at St James's Hospital was run by the foundation in partnership with the Age and Opportunity Bealtaine Festival art initiative. Participants were invited to draw pictures portraying their feelings about death to help open discussions.

"Older people should take the lead early on in their families in talking about their preferences in all matters around their own deaths," Ms Lloyd said.

In ways, it is a bit like that important talk about sex that some parents dread having with their teenage offspring, she said. A survey of 3,000 people revealed people find it difficult to talk about their deaths and often avoid it. But if a person expresses clearly their preferences around their care in their final days and their wishes for their funerals and other matters, their wishes can be honoured. It will prevent stress and disagreements among loved ones.

Ms Lloyd, public engagement officer for the foundation, said a very useful tool is a booklet entitled Think Ahead in which people can write answers to all the relevant questions in the event of them becoming gravely ill and preferences regarding their eventual deaths. Important information can be written down and kept for medics around whether or not the person wants life-sustaining treatments and resuscitation.

The booklet has blank spaces in each section for the person to write their answers on healthcare preferences, legal and financial information, funeral liturgy wishes, and matters like the location of the deeds of the house, the will, and insurance policies, who will mind the dog, and where the keys are kept.

The Think Ahead booklet is available from the Irish Hospice Foundation.

In nursing homes, if a resident asks 'Am I going to die?' they should not be told 'don't be daft' as it shuts down the conversation. She said it is best to tell people the truth when they ask if they are going to die as it enables them to make preparations and it will not deprive them of the chance to say 'I love you' or 'I forgive you' to loved ones.

About 20pc of the population die in nursing homes, 6pc die in hospices, and 50pc die in hospitals. Of those who die at home, many have the care of a palliative nurse.

According to Ms Lloyd, part of living in a community involved helping older people to remain longer in that community by offering to help with bins, mowing grass, and shopping, etc.

'Dying Is Everyone's Business' will be the theme of the Irish Hospice Foundation's bi-annual conference in Dublin Castle on October 24. Tickets: www.hospicefoundation.ie

Sunday Independent

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