Why we talk about death with local groups

Staff from Trinity hospice in Poppy's mortuary
Staff from Royal Trinity hospice, one of the groups who have had talks and tours from Poppy's

Four minute read

Next week is Dying Matters Week (2–6 May), an opportunity for all of us to think about what it means to be in a good place to die — whether physically, practically or emotionally.

Book now for our open, online panel event for Dying Matters Week, held jointly with Royal Trinity Hospice, on 5 May.

We visit local groups during Dying Matters Week, and all year round, to answer questions, bust myths, explain what a funeral director does and to talk about what choices are available around end-of-life and funeral care. We asked three very different groups to explain why they have invited a speaker from Poppy’s.

Why talk about death?

“As a palliative care team, we deal with death and dying a lot,” explains Natasha, Macmillan Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust.

“It’s interesting for us to know what happens after someone leaves our care, and families do ask us about this. It’s useful to hear about the process in more detail so that we can answer their questions.”

It seems obvious why a palliative care team might want to better understand funeral care, but why would an executive PA service be interested?

Annabel Jefferson, along with business partner Annabel Bunch, co-founded annabel nine years ago. They offer a variety of administrative services to retired individuals, and assist still-working clients with their personal projects.

“Over the last few years, we’ve found we are dealing more with probate and getting quite specialised in this area,” explains Annabel. “Our clients are preparing for the death of elderly parents or thinking about themselves or their partners. We are here to support people to plan for the big events in their lives — like marriages or house moves — but also unfortunately divorce or death.”

Free information sessions

At Poppy’s, we also build relationships with carers’ networks and community groups and offer free information sessions for their members.

“We pride ourselves on running a social activity for older LGBT people, where they are not talked down to or patronised,” says David Robson, chair of the Wandsworth LGBTQ+ Forum and the organiser of its weekly coffee morning for people aged fifty plus.

“We have guest speakers, cultural events and we empower people with information about health care. Amy from Poppy’s contacted me about visiting the group. We talked about it over a cuppa and I knew right away that she was genuine and really wanted to start a different dialogue around death, but I knew it needed to be handled delicately.

“Some people in the group do want to talk about death, others to avoid it. I wonder if, as a generation, they are still traumatised by HIV/AIDS — they saw so much death that now they don’t want to think about it — they are too busy living! Yet, there is a danger — especially for LGBTQ+ people who may not have contact with their families — that if you don’t plan for the end of life, you don’t get the funeral that you and your loved ones deserve.”

Read about Grief Encounters - a specialist bereavement service for LGBTQ+ people

You can ask anything

Because every group is different, every talk we do is different too. We are always flexible in response to what a group wants and needs. The palliative care team at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust were clear what they wanted.

“We have a weekly half-hour online teaching session, jointly with the oncology team,” says Natasha. “It’s usually doctors and nurses that come, but it can include physiotherapists and occupational therapists too. When Sarah from Poppy’s came to speak, we all were able to ask our own questions, including a student nurse that we had with us at the time.

“I remember being particularly impressed to learn how families and friends were able to visit people at Poppy’s. At the time, during the height of the pandemic, it could be difficult for people to come and visit people in the hospital. That was really tough, because it’s so important for people to be able to say goodbye.”

Find out how to request a talk for your group

We can be flexible

The staff at annabel were looking for something more in-depth. “We had our first in-person awayday with our 14 consultants in over a year. It was important to get some training on the agenda,” explains annabel’s consultant, Sophie Phillips. “Hannah and Angie from Poppy’s came and covered the ‘softer’ side, how to talk about death and so on. We found it was emotional to talk about death, but useful how they demystified the process.

“Afterwards, our consultants fed back that they needed more on the ‘harder’ admin side, checklists and paperwork.” So several weeks later, we followed up with a virtual session that covered more practical details, with notes and a recording that were then shared with all consultants.

As for the LGBTQ+ 50+ group, it has only recently started meeting again since lockdown and David is still working out how best to involve Poppy’s in their speaker programme. However, in the meantime, we’ve popped into a virtual meeting to say hello and contributed myth-busting information to the group’s regular newsletter.

We’re keen to build relationships, not just offer talks, and to learn from the questions that people have about death, dying and funerals. The next step is inviting groups to visit our beautiful on-site mortuary to see first hand how we care for the dead and the living.

Find out how to request a talk for your group

Book now for our open, online panel event for Dying Matters Week, held jointly with Royal Trinity Hospice, on 5 May.

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