How Marie Curie's Talkabout campaign is tackling taboo around death and dying
Early and open conversations with patients and their families can make a huge difference to the end of life experience
Early and open conversations with patients and their families can make a huge difference to the end of life experience, says Marie Curie's Julie Pearce
Many people feel uncomfortable talking about dying, death and bereavement, and few plan for the end of life.
Despite death being the one certainty in life, many of us, even those supporting the dying and bereaved, shy away from the topic.
Sometimes we are able to have these conversations at work with patients and carers, but not in our personal lives with our own families.
Avoiding talk about dying or death is a common reaction
Talking about dying or death can bring up many uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, so wanting to avoid it is a common reaction. Yet planning for that final stage of life can make it easier for everyone involved.
At Marie Curie we have been caring for people at the end of life for more than 70 years, and we see the huge benefit that talking about death and preparing for it can make for those facing it and for those left behind.
The dying can express their concerns and fears, make decisions about their treatment and care, and decide on practical things including leaving a will or funeral plans – all helping to reduce distress and anxiety.
Those affected by a death can focus on the final days, grief and remembering their loved one, rather than worrying about the logistics of a funeral. When people are unprepared for a bereavement they can experience avoidable regret, guilt, confusion, family conflict, and negative financial and legal impacts.
Shifting the way society views dying, death and bereavement
In light of this, Marie Curie has launched a campaign to encourage people to start thinking, talking and preparing for the end of life. The charity believes we have a responsibility to shift the way society views dying, death and bereavement.
And if we don’t influence a good end of life for everyone, who will? If talking about and planning for death becomes a normal conversation across the UK not only will it be beneficial for everyone involved, it will also bring end of life to the forefront, hopefully securing it on the agenda of key decision-makers to ensure everyone has a good end of life experience.
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To start tackling the reluctance to talk about death Marie Curie created the first nationwide television advert encouraging people to do so with one simple call to action: whatever you call it, we should talk about it.
The advert takes euphemisms that people use instead of saying ‘died’ and visually represents them in animation. Marie Curie tested many versions and combined feedback from different audiences to ensure that this difficult subject is made approachable.
Thinking, sharing and planning for end of life
The advert directs people to a new part of our website called Talkabout, which has inspiring articles, interviews, resources and ideas to help people start thinking, sharing and planning for the end of life.
There are also free Conversation Playing Cards – a deck of cards with questions to help broach the subject – and a podcast called On the Marie Curie Couch featuring fascinating conversations with celebrity guests about their experiences of dying, death and bereavement.
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Often the focus is so much on the treatment options, including those having palliative chemotherapy, that the opportunity for people to have access to palliative care nurses early enough for them to plan and talk about what matters to them and their family is missed. In particular, this misses the opportunity to prepare emotionally and spiritually for dying and death, and for the family to receive pre-bereavement support.
How nurses can get involved
Early and open conversations with patients and their families can make a huge difference to the end of life experience, and advance care planning can help put a focus on person-centred care. Marie Curie's Palliative Care Knowledge Zone has a range of expert information for health and social care professionals on advance care planning which can support these conversations.
Signpost patients and their families to the Talkabout section of the Marie Curie website or the free Marie Curie Support Line on 0800 090 2309 for practical or clinical information and emotional support.
Julie Pearce is chief nurse and executive director of quality and caring services at Marie Curie
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