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GraveTalk project helps people talk about dying

22 May 2015


Bright attire: mourners wearing cheerful clothes and flowers in their hair arrive for the funeral of 23-year-old Hannah Witheridge, at St Mary the Virgin, Helmsby, Norfolk, in October 2014. Miss Witheridge was backpacking in Thailand with 24-year-old David Miller, when they were murdered on the beach on the island of Koh Tao 

Bright attire: mourners wearing cheerful clothes and flowers in their hair arrive for the funeral of 23-year-old Hannah Witheridge, at St...

FOR most people today a "good death" means being pain-free and surrounded by loved ones, and does not include making peace with God at the end, suggests the results this week of research launched by the Dying Matters Coalition.

The survey, carried out by ComRes found that just five per cent of people thought that having their spiritual needs met was essential before dying. In contrast, more than a third said that being pain-free was the most important, followed by 17 per cent who thought that being with family was the most important factor in achieving a good death.

The Church of England, which is part of the Coalition, has this week launched its own project, GraveTalk, to encourage people to talk about death and plan their funerals (Comment, 15 May).

GraveTalk provides resources to encourage churches to hold relaxed, café-style gatherings at which people can talk about death and dying.

The resources include a pack of 52 questions about life, death, society, funerals, and grief to kick-start conversations.

Questions include: "What would you like your lasting legacy to be?", "How do you feel about being asked to wear bright colours at a funeral?", and "What music would you like to have played or sung at your funeral?"

Claire Henry, the chief executive of the National Council for Palliative Care, which leads the Dying Matters Coalition, said: "Dying is a fundamental part of life, reflected by the fact that every week the Church of England conducts over 3000 funerals attended by around 200,000 people.

"However, despite some encouraging progress, many of us are still very reluctant to talk openly about dying, death, and bereavement, and are risking leaving it too late to make our end-of-life wishes known.

"That's why GraveTalk is such an important initiative and why the new resources that have been launched are so needed. Talking about dying and planning ahead may not always be easy, but it can help you to make the most of life and spare your loved ones from making difficult decisions about what you would have wanted."

The ComRes survey of more than 2000 adults found that, although people thought it was more acceptable to talk about dying today than a decade ago, more than two-thirds of people felt others were uncomfortable with it as a subject.

The survey also found that only 35 per cent of the public has written a will; 32 per cent have registered as an organ donor or have a donor card; 31 per cent have taken out life insurance; 27 per cent have talked to someone about their funeral wishes; and seven per cent have written down their wishes or preferences about their future care, should they be unable to make decisions for themselves.

The majority of people agreed that quality of life was more important than its length, and only eight per cent wanted to live to over 100.

The head of projects and development for the Archbishops' Council, the Revd Canon Dr Sandra Millar, said: "Whether it is thinking about what hymns and readings you might want in your funeral service, or finding someone to listen during the painful journey of grief, a local church can play a big part in getting people talking about death and dying."



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