Tea, Talk and Tears – Talking about Dying…and Living!

An article from Dr Julie Luscombe, Head of Education, Jersey Hospice Care

Julie Luscombe, Head of Education at Jersey Hospice Care, talks more about death, dying and the very important matter of living.

I’ve borrowed the title of this post (Tea, Talk and Tears) from an excellent podcast that aired as part of Dying Matters Week by Lucy Watts, MBE and Dr Kathryn Mannix, a palliative care consultant. It sums up Jersey Hospice Care’s message perfectly. We all need to talk about death and dying but also the very important matter of living!

Talking about death doesn’t bring death closer. It’s about planning for life, helping us to make the most of the time that we have, whether that is years, months or weeks. Death is going to come to us all but there is a lot of living to be done before then. So, have you thought about what is important to you?

There may be tears, there may be tea and there should definitely be talk but remember, these conversations are a little bit about death and a lot about living. So if you’re reading this, grab yourself a cup of tea and give yourself a few minutes to reflect on the essence of what is important to you in your life and what you would like others to know.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought thoughts about our own mortality and our time on this earth into a sharper focus. We are all worried about the virus and what it might mean for ourselves, our families and friends if we became ill. However, although we certainly did not invite this, the pandemic has given us the opportunity to reflect on what really matters to us in our lives. If we became ill to the point we might not recover for whatever reason and at any time in our lives, what would be important to us that others should know?

The subject of death can be considered taboo. Bringing up the subject with your loved ones is difficult but families tell us that it often comes as a relief once the subject is brought out into the open. We also know from research that having these conversations is more likely to bring peace of mind. This is a conversation that consists of two parts; we need to talk and we need to listen.

Thinking ahead: what is important to you?

You might have heard the term ‘Advance Care Planning’ which simply put means thinking ahead and planning for what is important for others to know when you come towards the end of your own life, whenever that may be.

A good way to start thinking about this or of having conversations with someone else is to reflect on some of these questions. The answers will be very different for all of us:

• Some of the things or people that are really important to me are…
• In difficult times in my life, what gives me strength or keeps me going?
• If I think forward to a time when I might be very ill what would be important to me then? Where would I want to be, who would I want to be with me? What treatment would I be happy with?
• What would I like people to know before I die? Are there any conversations I need to have?
• Practical matters: have you thought about your funeral or have you made a will?
• Who needs to know about this?

These are important issues to think about and your answers might change as your life continues and priorities shift. That’s okay. Perhaps you don’t want to think about all these questions in one go – perhaps you give yourself a break and come back to them. That’s fine but do come back to them.

If you find it hard to start talking about what is important to you with your loved ones, others have found it helpful to write a letter explaining how they feel and setting down the things important to them. Perhaps you could give a gift with some emotional significance to you or the person you are giving it to with a note explaining your feelings or wishes.

Listening to a loved one: let the conversation flow

Whilst talking about your own wishes can be hard, listening to someone else who wants to talk about their plans for the end of their life can be just as emotional. It can be easy to dodge that conversation with a joke or a “maybe later” to disguise your discomfort. Humour is fine if that is the way you and your family or friends want to frame it; you will know best what works for you and for them. However, try not to use humour as a way of avoiding the conversation because when someone wants to talk about death and dying, we owe it to them to be the other half of that conversation. If someone has brought up the subject with you, they trust you enough to listen and may have been building themselves up to have the conversation. If we don’t listen when someone is ready to talk, the chance might be gone.

A conversation about death can emerge from anywhere. You might be discussing the recent death of a friend or a celebrity or someone on TV. Perhaps someone might have asked you to listen to their thoughts. You don’t need to be the expert: just let the conversation flow. You don’t need to have any answers, you just need to be there and listen. A helpful piece of advice you can give them is to write their wishes down and give them to their GP or a friend or family member. Jersey Hospice Care website has information about advance care planning and you can direct your loved ones to that information.

And of course, look after yourself – having this conversation with someone you care about can be emotional. That’s okay, these are emotional times. Give yourself some quiet time afterwards. Make sure you spend some time processing all of this. It might prompt you to want to talk about your own wishes. If so, who will your listener be?

Every death matters because every life matters so let’s have these conversations and then get on with the business of living our lives, spending time with our loved ones and living our best life.

Additional Resources

Talking about Dying podcast with Dr Kathryn Mannix and Lucy Wyatt MBE.

Jersey Hospice Care Thinking Ahead Leaflet.