Dying Matters Week 2020

11 May 2020

Paula Plaskow is a social worker with over 20 years’ experience and Jewish Care’s End of Life Care Team Manager. This article is written in connection with Dying Matters Awareness Week which runs from 11 to 17 May 2020 to put the importance of talking about dying, death and bereavement firmly on the national agenda.

“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” Haruki Murakami

On 8 March 2020, I spoke at a Jewish Care Patrons’ breakfast to raise awareness about the benefits of honest and open discussions with family and friends about end-of-life wishes and preferences. Shortly afterwards, the current Covid-19 lockdown commenced.

 For most people, there is an instinctive aversion to confronting mortality as if such an exercise could hasten death. However, whilst continual medical advances are enabling people to live longer, ultimately, we only have a finite time. Research consistently shows that the majority avoid discussing burial planning with their families, execute wills to govern their affairs or grant lasting powers of attorney to enable others to take crucial decisions should circumstances impair their mental capacity. People postpone and defer, always thinking that there is plenty of time – sadly, that is not always the case.

 Heartbreakingly, as a result of the current Covid-19 crisis, thousands of people, have died suddenly and prematurely, being physically separated from their family. This has starkly highlighted the need for timely end-of-life planning. Along with countless colleagues, I have been working to support families unexpectedly taking difficult end-of life decisions, coordinating burial arrangements and making sense of powerful and overwhelming emotions. Unfortunately, the absence of end-of-life planning has forced too many people to confront painful issues during illness or grief when they feel most emotionally exposed thereby compounding their fears, concerns and pressures. Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the hospice movement, said, “How someone dies, remains in the memory of those that live on.” Too often, families are left with lasting unease, guilt and remorse as the result of unresolved questions.

 Covid-19 has illuminated mortality and social isolation has, in many cases, given people cause to consider who, and what, is most important to them. Death and dying has become forefront in our lives. Professionally, I hope that this challenging period prompts personal reflection and contemplation that, going forward, will be the foundation for a more proactive, rather than reactive and positive approach towards end-of-life.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending[1]; pre-emptive end-of-life discussions and decisions should be innate, from the perspective of both individuals and their families, as acts of kindness so that, when death comes, all those involved have greater peace of mind and, to the greatest extent possible, are freed to remember and celebrate those who pass on.

 Medical professionals fight to save lives and, consequently, when death arrives, this is sometimes regarded as failure. However, for palliative care teams, peacefully escorting someone on their final journey is approached as a privilege. I am constantly in awe of the loving embrace provided by Jewish Care staff, treating residents and families with respect, dignity and compassion up to their final moment. Jewish Care is here to provide you with care and support. On behalf of Jewish Care, we hope and pray that you and your families remain safe and well.