Let's Talk About Death: Britain to Host 'Dying Matters' to Discuss End-of-Life Issues

( [email protected] ) May 20, 2014 07:57 PM EDT
Festivals are being held in Yorkshire and Wales to discuss end of life issues and help people come to terms with dying and bereavement. Studies reveal that while many Americans believe it is important to discuss end of life issues, very few people actually do.
Experts say it is important to discuss end of life care early on www.dyingmatters.com

Britain is hosting a "Dying Matters" awareness week to discuss a subject that is typically avoided: death.

Yorkshire is holding a "Before I Die Festival," including 25 art, poetry and theater events exploring the "theme of what people want to accomplish and come to terms with before their deaths," the Huffington Post reports.  

In Wales, an end of life facility is hosting a seminar on "everything you wanted to know about death but were afraid to ask," while a community group is offering lessons about advance health care directives and living wills.

"Most of the British public still doesn't want to talk about dying," said Joe Levenson of the Dying Matters Coalition, which conducted the weeklong series, now in its fifth year. "We want to raise awareness and help people come to terms with dying and bereavement."

While death awareness groups have slowly become more popular due to the rise of hospice facilities around the world, the "Dying Matters" week reportedly stands out for the magnitude of the event.

"I'm not so sure if we're more friendly to talking about death over here than in the States, but we have seen more and more people every year come out and join this journey," said Levenson. "I think universally there is a fear of death, but different cultures handle and address it in varying ways."

Emmaline Bowles, whose husband recently passed at a hospice facility in the United States, says she plans to travel to Yorkshire to take part in the festivities.

"Death is a real thing-it happens to every single one of us. It's important to have a plan for after you die but also face the reality of death in order to better appreciate life," she stated. "It's a pity we don't have more events like this in the United States."

According to surveys, most Americans give little to no thought on how they want doctors to handle their medical needs nearing the time of death. While one survey revealed that nine in 10 Americans said it was important to talk about their own deaths and the deaths of those they love, less than three in 10 actually did.

"It puts family members in a sticky situation," said Kathryn Midlow, an M.D. at Vanderbilt Research Center in Nashville, Tennessee, referencing the controversial case of Terry Schiavo. "While it certainly is a taboo subject, people need to understand that death is inevitable and needs to be prepared for, medically and financially."

The Dying Matters Coalition has 30,000 members, among them doctors, lawyers, professors and funeral workers, as well as employees of churches, hospices and palliative care facilities, all united to encourage people to discuss death. The group launched in 2009, a year after the British Department of Health revealed an "end-of-life care strategy" that encouraged private and public organizations, such as the National Health Service, to "increase public awareness and discussion of death and dying."

Extensive controversy has surrounded the "death with dignity" legislation and the inclusion of end-of-life care counseling in medical care for the elderly in the United States, both widely accepted ideas in the U.K., says Heidi Parker, professor of bereavement studies at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York.

"There seem to be more people getting more and more interested in discussing death, still, regardless of country. Maybe it's people getting older, maybe it's people becoming more aware of their mortality," continued Parker. "We would all be better off talking about the dying process."