This week is Dying Matters Awareness Week, which is especially pertinent during this time of Coronavirus and the many difficult conversations that are being had around the world. 

To make it easier for more people to talk about dying, death and grief, more people must be willing and able to listen. It can feel hard to be a part of a conversation about death, so for Dying Matters Awareness Week 2020, the emphasis is on listening. Here at Katharine House, we know just how important it is to listen - and how difficult it can be too. James Grote, our hospice chaplain, says:

‘“We have two ears and two eyes and one mouth” is a good steer on the art of listening. Listening with our ears and our eyes also helps us to sit in the silence with someone and not to fill it with words ourselves. When someone has something to say, they will fill the silence, or just be glad that you are sharing it with them because in that moment there may be nothing to say.’

There are, of course, many practical steps that everyone can take, but it all starts with conversations. Not only is it important to talk about our feelings about dying and death, it’s important - if sometimes difficult - to listen to others too.

Active listening

As well as James’s advice about listening with our ears and our eyes, here are five tips from Dying Matters to focus on when listening to a loved one.

  1. Be respectful: none of us truly knows what is going to happen after death, whatever our religious or spiritual beliefs. So it’s important not to force our viewpoint onto the person. This is their experience. 
  2. Be honest: often in difficult situations we tend to search for the ‘right’ or clever thing to say. Or we deny what’s happening, or make a joke of it. Such reactions are understandable – humour has an important place too, even in death – but dying is a profound process that just needs us to be there, and perhaps hold a hand. The act of sharing ourselves openly and honestly can be very liberating and soothing for the dying person.
  3. Stay calm: you may also feel embarrassed by this kind of emotional intimacy, or fearful of seeing your relative or friend cry or become helpless and vulnerable. Breathe slowly to calm yourself.
  4. Keep grounded: ground yourself by physically feeling your feet firmly on the floor. This will help you to be present and accepting of what is happening.
  5. Don't fear tears: it’s okay to cry; crying is a natural response to emotionally charged situations. Being brave enough to express your grief can have a powerful healing effect on your relationship, as well as giving your relative or friend permission to grieve for the life he or she is leaving behind.

For more help on talking about death and dying from Dying Matters, visit this website page.

Practical support

Katharine House is all about ensuring that care for people with life limiting conditions is as good as it possibly can be, and this includes providing a listening ear for family and friends too. Our patients and their families also have access to psychological and spiritual care, as well as bereavement support.

Outside of the hospice, you can also find support from the following organisations:

Dying Matters is a coalition of individual and organisational members across England and Wales, which aims to help people talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement, and to make plans for the end of life. Each year they run an awareness raising week in May with Hospice UK.