Death and dying – still a taboo?

9 May 2016

Initiating tough discussions with family and friends about sensitive issues like what will happen after their death isn’t easy. In our culture, many people, young and old alike, find it morbid and almost unthinkable to consider a life beyond them. In a hospice environment things are different.

Staff, patients and families are surrounded by the subjects of death and dying, and there is a culture of having conversations around dying matters. In a way this can be liberating. I certainly find it less difficult to talk about a future beyond me, as I run into so many patients and families where death is a part of the life being lived.

So often the end of life is expected to be only around the corner. Personally I am very familiar with death and dying. My Dad passed away very suddenly, and my Mum died recently following a 5 year palliative diagnosis. I know firsthand how important it is to have a plan in place of what will happen when you are no longer here.

Dealing with legalities and paperwork on behalf of your loved one when they have passed is traumatic and if their wishes are not laid out in black and white it is even harder. I was fortunate that Mum had made a Will and it was easier and saved me from having to make some tough decisions during an already very difficult period.

Leaving a legacy to help others is a privilege

Although encouraging people to leave a legacy is part of fundraising I don’t see it as a difficult ask. So many of our legators tell me it is a privilege to be able to leave something to the hospice.

A lot of them have direct experience of our care, and take comfort and pride in knowing that their legacy will provide longevity to our care. The special hospice brand of friendship, respect and love that is unique to those with a life limiting illness.

Whatever role we do, whether patient facing or in the background, if we build excellent relationships with our supporters I believe they will inevitably want to help, including leaving us a gift in their Will.

I see it as the responsibility of everyone who works at the hospice to not only promote the fantastic care services but also the fantastic privilege to leave a gift in a Will for the benefit of others.

Changing perceptions

These conversations could be had by nurses, administration staff, chaplaincy, social workers…and the list goes on. The subject of legacies could be part of everyone’s conversations across all departments. We’ve not quite mastered this yet.

We are trying to change staff perceptions that it’s not just about death, but by leaving a gift in your Will it’s a privilege to know that you can contribute to a dying woman’s wish to pass away in her home, or a dying father being well enough to see his daughter get married.

I don’t avoid talking about death or Wills but I don’t always plan to talk about it…I just do it. It has become part of who I am…I think that my passion for the hospice, and my own personal experience, means that I absolutely believe in the activities I undertake to raise money for the care we give.

The W word

I feel that if other staff and volunteers in the hospice are able to get to where I am then we can all feel at ease about mentioning the W word to patients and families, which could help everyone.

This is a view echoed by Keith Witham, director of fundraising and communications at St Raphael’s Hospice in Cheam.

Keith says, “we are in the process of organising a hospice wide training session, including people from all departments about the use of social media, so that more stories about gifts in Wills are ‘out there’. This really helps us communicate the legacy message more widely.”

This year more than ever before we, at the Dougie Mac, are ensuring our Make A Will Month 2016 campaign is very accessible to the public by using everyday language, advertising on social media, having more of a presence in people’s everyday lives and making it more relevant to the younger audience.

Jill Bowler, Legacies, Individual Giving & Trusts Head at Douglas Macmillan Hospice

Have you read our blog on how charities can make best use of digital channels to engage followers in legacy giving?