The specialist team at Epsom and St Helier hospitals dedicated to caring for those at the end of their life are encouraging people “not to be afraid” to talk about dying, death and bereavement, following this year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week.

Dying Matters, which has 32,000 members across England and Wales, aims to help people talk to family and loved ones about their wishes for the end of their lives, including where they want to die and their funeral plans. The theme of this year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week  was ‘What Can you Do?’, and focused on encouraging people to be more active in planning for dying and death, and helping to support those who may need it in times of grief and bereavement. Dying Matters is aimed at all of us, whether we are fit and healthy or have a chronic or progressive illness.

The Palliative Care team held a range of events through the week, such as an advice and information stand, two ‘I Did It My Way’ cafés (where members of the public joined the team for a cup of coffee, tea, and cake to discuss plans for the end of their lives – including their wishes for a last song, hence the name), as well as a joint event at the Ashley Centre in Epsom with Princess Alice Hospice, Shooting Star Chase Children’s Hospice, CSH Surrey and Surrey Downs Clinical Commissioning Group.

Dr Rina Patel, Palliative Medicine Consultant, said: “Death is a frightening subject for many of us, but without communication and understanding, death and terminal illness can be a lonely and stressful experience, both for the person who is dying and for their friends and family.

“That is why throughout Dying Matters Awareness Week we wanted to encourage local people and our colleagues to not be afraid to talk openly about death and dying, and to see it as a natural part of everybody’s life cycle. We also encouraged people to choose the ‘last songs’ they would like to be played at their funerals – that can be a very important detail for people, and if it’s something you feel strongly about, you should definitely let your choice be known. My last song choice was Three Little Birds by Bob Marley. As a society we put a lot of time into planning for major life events such as getting married, having children, birthdays, anniversaries and retirement but shy away from preparing for the other major, and inevitable event – death.

“It was heartening for us as a team to work with a range of different organisations and to hear how people would like to spend the last few days of their lives, their funeral wishes and even their last songs. I think we have shown people that planning proactively can help them to prepare effectively for the end of their lives.”

Charlotte Hall, Chief Nurse, said: “Talking about and preparing for death is something that many people find incredibly difficult – yet when the time comes there can be an enormous sense of relief and comfort from knowing that a relative’s final wishes have been met. By doing events like these we are able to give people the tools to share their wishes with family so they will know what to do when the moment comes.”

For more information, please visit www.dyingmatters.org.