27th July 2017: The D-word; opening up conversations about death and dying by Danuta Orlowska

Come along to Cabaret Voltaire (36-38 Blair St, Edinburgh, EH1 1QR), doors open at 6.30pm and the talks start from 7pm. Come along for a bite of food, a chance to talk about death…


Title of talk:

The D-word: opening up conversations about death and dying


Death and dying

Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

  • Brief introduction to hospice movement in the UK
  • Explaining the concept of palliative care
  • The importance of increasing openness about death, dying and bereavement


A few paragraphs on your subject:

In this session I’d like to consider how we talk about (or sometimes avoid talking about) death and dying amongst friends, in our families and communities and the implications of talking (or not) about these issues which affect us all. I’ll explain the concept of palliative care and also talk about the broad roles hospices play in caring for people with a range of diagnoses through day hospice services, supporting people in their own homes as well as through inpatient stays (whether for respite care, medication review or for end-of-life care).
Though death, dying and bereavement are experiences common to us all, it’s been argued that lack of public openness about death can have negative consequences. How do we know what to expect and what services are available before a time of illness or crisis? If we so wish, how can we be helped to have conversations with our loved ones (whether as patient or relative) – about preferences for treatment and place of care, legal matters such as power of attorney and a will, and funeral arrangements? How can we better support each other in bereavement and recognise that we experience this in different ways and over different time scales? One way of addressing these questions is through encouraging greater openness in society about death, dying and bereavement.
The positive response to Princes William and Harry recently talking about the impact of the death of their mother when they were young, and to footballer Rio Ferdinand coming to terms with the death of his wife are valuable means of increasing openness. However, such conversations need to be about us all and include us all, not just those in the public eye.
Many organisations, communities and individuals are involved in encouraging openness about death, dying and bereavement and hospices have an important role to play through their outreach and community engagement work. Examples of community engagement from hospices include participation in Doors Open Days, school art and music projects through which students meet and create work with people attending day hospice services, a full-length documentary about the work of a hospice in Scotland and hospice-led good neighbour schemes which offer practical help and companionship to isolated older people living at home.
Out-with hospices, other ways in which openness can be promoted include Death Cafes in which a group of strangers meets over coffee and cake to talk about issues surrounding death (these are not intended to act as bereavement support groups) and “Before I die…” walls on which people write something they wish to do or see happen before they die. Both of the above are happening around the globe and the colourful and community-level commemorations around the Day of the Dead in Mexico are widely known. There also are awareness weeks UK-wide: Dying Awareness Week in May each year and Scotland has a To Absent Friends Week in November. In Edinburgh during August, plays and shows which touch on the theme of death are listed together in a “Death at the Fringe” leaflet. Employers can play a part too by establishing compassionate and flexible policies for carers’ and/or bereavement leave and schools can implement strategies for support around death, be it following the death of a pupil, the relative of a pupil or a member of staff. All too tragically, recent events have made such support relevant following deaths as a result of terrorist activity.

A few paragraphs about you:

I work part-time as a Lecturer in Palliative Care at St. Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh teaching on Graduate Certificate and Masters level courses which we run in partnership with Queen Margaret University. By training I’m a clinical psychologist and out-with my role at the hospice I help support patients as part of a multidisciplinary cancer team in the NHS.

What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others if they wish to explore your chosen theme further?

Death Cafés – Informal opportunities for conversation about death in cafés or similar settings (NB these are not bereavement support groups)

Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief – coalition of organisations working to make Scotland a place of greater openness about death, dying and bereavement. Comprehensive list of resources including leaflets, films and a photographic exhibition.

Before I die… Public art projects inviting people to complete the sentence “Before I die I want to….”

Seven Songs for a Long Life – documentary through song about Strathcarron Hospice in Denny

Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS: A Whole School Approach to Supporting Loss and Bereavement


A Whole School Approach to Supporting Loss and Bereavement
Click To Download A Copy

Winston’s Wish – children’s bereavement charity with phone helpline, resource lists and workshops

Final Fling – Award-winning Scottish website helping people sort their paperwork, make plans, leave instructions and tell their story.


What are your weblinks?


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