If someone close to you died suddenly would you know what their wishes would have been for their family, property or funeral? If you were suddenly taken seriously ill would people know your end of life wishes? Would you like to die at home surrounded by familiar faces and sounds? Many people do not get the chance to express their wishes or to find out what their loved one would have wanted .
According to research by Dying Matters for Awareness Week this year,
Only 35% of the public say they have written a Will; 32% that they have registered as an organ donor or have a donor card; 31% that they have taken out life insurance; 27% that they have talked to someone about their funeral wishes and 7% that they have written down their wishes or preferences about their future care, should they be unable to make decisions for themselves.
Just 18% of British adults say they have asked a family member about their end of life wishes.
But what if you’re able to talk about it, plan for the worst and then just get on with living? Well you can – and this was the subject of Dying Matters Awareness week 2015 at the end of May. Events were taking place up and down the country to help people understand that these choices can be made even when we’re fit and well.
The week was aimed at getting as many people as possible thinking, talking and taking action by encouraging members of the public to take five simple steps to make their end of life experience better, both for them and for their loved ones. (write your will, record your funeral wishes, plan your future care and support, consider organ donation, tell your loved ones your wishes) and we decided to talk to a range of organisations, businesses and individuals about bringing conversations about death and dying out onto the streets of Kings Heath in Birmingham by creating an informative, cultural and positive event.
We had no idea what kind of reaction we’d get, but on Friday 22nd May we parked our white hearse on Kings Heath Village Square, set up our tables and presented a united network of organisations and individuals connected with end of life and dying to the unsuspecting but open-minded people of Kings Heath.
A place where people could feel comfortable talking about plans for end life care, how to make wishes known, hear about the non-invasive alternative to post mortem, learn about cardboard or wicker coffins, natural burial and posies made from British flowers, watch a coffin being decorated by a local artist, taste Victorian funeral biscuits and be inspired to create truly memorable and personal farewells. To talk, plan and then get on with living.
The reaction from people walking through was brilliant – conversations were lively and positive – not at all how people might imagine. One lady felt that with all the myths, pre-conceptions and false expectations about what people “should do” when a loved one dies, building awareness and understanding about the art of the possible would bring hope to people that they might not have imagined possible.
With the help of: Acorns Children Hospice, St Mary’s Hospice, Macmillan Nurses, the Dying Matters team – Simon Chapman (Director of Policy), NHS CCG members, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital bereavement team,Charles Cowling – author of The Good Funeral Guide, Westall Park Natural Burial Ground, A Natural Undertaking, Digital Autopsy, The Good Funeral Guide Funeral Plan, Conjurer’s Kitchen , Tuckshop Flowers and a number of wonderful individuals and some sunshine, we were able to create an atmosphere that was positive and welcoming, and one which we will definitely repeat.
Photographs courtesy of Rob Farrell Photography
You can view a short video of the event via this link.