The charity Marie Curie has warned that our reluctance to think or talk about dying and death means many of us feel deeply unprepared and distressed when facing the end of life, either for ourselves or our loved ones.
The negative effects of not preparing for the end of life will be felt by more people as the number of people dying is set to increase sharply over the next 10 years.
New research commissioned by Marie Curie found that not being aware of someone’s final wishes, left those bereaved finding it difficult to cope with emotional wellbeing, financial matters, funeral arrangements and other issues as a result.
A quarter of people (26% in the UK, 22% in North West) surveyed who weren’t aware of all of their loved ones’ final wishes experienced regret over unresolved feelings or things left unsaid, whilst one in five (20% UK, 19% North West) people were left feeling unsure if the funeral was what the person would have wanted.
People also experienced family disagreements (18% in the UK and 13% North West) and second guessing or confusion (19% UK, slightly higher at 21% North West) after the death of someone close to them when they didn’t know their wishes.
The research shows that while most people across the UK would be comfortable talking about their own end of life wishes (82%) or those of their loved ones (70%), very few have actually had this conversation (36%) or made any preparations (25%).
As the UK’s leading charity for people living with a terminal illness, Marie Curie has been caring for people at the end of their life for over 70 years. This week, the charity has launched the biggest ever public campaign to get people thinking, talking and planning for the end of life. Marie Curie is also providing conversations cards, checklists and advice to help get people talking about and preparing for death.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of Marie Curie said:
“Our ageing population means it is increasingly important for families to have conversations, share their wishes and be prepared so that they have the best chance of a good end of life experience for themselves and those they leave behind.
“When we are bereaved we can experience avoidable regret, guilt, confusion, family conflict, and negative financial and legal impacts.
“While most of us say we are comfortable having these conversations, the reality is that many of us are not making any preparations as it feels a long way off or something that will cause unnecessary upset both for us and the people around us.
“But we need to plan more for the end of life, while there is still time to do so. Having these conversations early can be easier than having them when we, or someone we love, is dying.
“At Marie Curie we have been caring for people at the end of life for over 70 years. With our expertise and experience we have developed some wonderful resources to help people start these important conversations.”
However, the charity acknowledges that there is some way to go in tackling people’s reluctance to talk about dying, death and bereavement.
Its research found that death and dying was one topic people were least comfortable talking about, with 72% across the UK feeling comfortable (dropping to 69% in the North West), compared to religion, money, politics, mental health, immigration and Brexit, with only sex being rated lower (50% UK and 51% in the North West).
Yet 81% of people in the UK (83% in the North West) thought it was important to talk about death and dying, second only to mental health (86% UK, 89% North West).
To get people to think, talk and plan for dying Marie Curie has launched the first ever nationwide TV advert encouraging people to do so – ‘Whatever you call it, we should all talk about it.’ It plays on the euphemisms people use to avoid using the word death such as ‘kick the bucket’ when talking about the reality of our end of life experiences.
The charity has a wealth of materials to help people plan for the end of life, wherever they are in the process, including free conversation starter cards, checklists and inspiring articles and resources at www.mariecurie.org.uk/talkabout.
Visit www.mariecurie.org.uk/talkabout to find ideas and tools to help you get started or call the Marie Curie Support Line, for free, on 0800 090 2309.
In the North West, Marie Curie provides hands-on support to people living with terminal illness and their families through it’s at-home nursing service and its hospice in Liverpool.