Why we need to talk about dying

25 June 2015

Every minute someone in Britain dies. Yet many people risk missing out on their end of life wishes being met and leaving a mess behind for those close to them, because of a reluctance to talk about dying.

It’s against this backdrop that the Dying Matters Coalition was set up by the National Council for Palliative Care in 2009.

With over 30,000 members including charities, hospices, care homes, funeral directors and law firms as well as individuals, Dying Matters is at the forefront of trying to change attitudes and behaviour around talking about and planning for dying.

Uncomfortable taboo

As ComRes research for Dying Matters recently found, the majority of us think it is more acceptable to talk about dying now than it was 10 years ago, but discussing dying and making end of life plans remains a taboo.

Although the research found that a third of British adults (32%) think about dying and death at least once a week, almost three quarters of us believe that people in Britain are uncomfortable discussing dying, death and bereavement.

Just 35% of us say we have written a will and fewer say we have registered as an organ donor or have a donor card, taken out life insurance, discussed our funeral wishes or written down our wishes or preferences about our future care, should we be unable to make decisions for ourselves.

Getting our affairs in order

Even amongst parents who have children under 18 living with them, only 28% say they have written a will and just 40% had taken out life insurance. This risks wishes about who would look after the children not being met, as well as financial uncertainty.

So, what accounts for this failure to plan ahead, a failure which is unlikely to come as a surprise to legacy fundraisers?

It doesn’t appear to be disinterest, as the majority of people do have concerns about their end of life wishes. Indeed, many people, when pressed, have been shown to have strong views. Moreover, just 15% of us believe a good death isn’t possible.

Instead, it seems to reflect a reluctance to face up to our own mortality and to talk about dying to the people we care about – combined with the endurance of a British stiff upper lip.

Demystifying the dying process

A more open approach to dying in society can also help support loved ones who are approaching the end of their lives as well as for people who have been bereaved. This means demystifying the dying process. It also means being there for people who have been bereaved and not worrying so much about saying or doing the wrong thing, that you do nothing at all.

Talking about dying and planning ahead may not be easy, but it can help us to make the most of life and spare our loved ones from making difficult decisions on our behalf, or dealing with the fallout if we haven’t got our affairs in order.

Whether it’s through writing a will, making financial plans, planning for our future care and support including making a Lasting Power of Attorney, or deciding whether we want to join the organ donor, all of us can increase the likelihood of getting our wishes met.

We can reduce the chances of life after our death becoming even more difficult for the people we care about.

Find out more about why you should consider making a Will.

Joe Levenson, director at the National Council for the Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition