Society’s wall of silence around dying and death prompts call for national debate

1 November 2010
A survey released today has revealed that three out of four (75%) people in England do not set aside time with friends and family around this time of year to remember loved ones who have died.

Commenting on this Professor Mayur Lakhani, GP, Chair of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC), said:

“It is shocking that the vast majority of people in England don’t take time to remember dead loved ones. This is further compelling evidence of the wall of silence our society’s built around dying and death.”

The survey also found that over three fifths (62%) of the English public think the English are more reserved about talking about dying, death and bereavement  than our counterparts in other countries around the world who have traditions of commemorating their dead. This “reserve” is having a direct impact on our experience of end of life and on the services available. 

“When a significant majority of people say they want to die at home, but around 60% end their days in a hospital bed (DH End of Life Care Strategy, 2008), it’s clear this so-called “reserve” is preventing a large number of people from dying how they want.” said Professor Lakhani.

With Remembrance Day round the corner the Dying Matters Coalition wants to start a national debate asking the country - should we do more to remember our dead? The Coalition of over 12,000 members across a range of organisations and sectors will ask its members, key partners and the public to call for a national debate and ask what more we can do to remember all those we love who have died.  It will build on and also support the tremendous work of the British Legion.

Commenting on this Eve Richardson, Chief Executive of NCPC and Dying Matters said:

“We need to break this last taboo and start talking about the death we want. So Dying Matters is asking it members to lead a national debate about how we remember our dead loved ones. This will also help us to talk to our loved ones about our own deaths and plan and share what we want.”

Deb Hickey, Head of Care Services at St.Luke’s Hospice in Basildon, which is a member of Dying Matters, said:

“I see every day how a simple conversation can make a world of difference at a difficult time. Greater openness helps dying people to make the most of the time they have left; it empowers them to say all they want and need to their friends and families; and it helps those left behind to celebrate the lives of those who have died. We all deserve to die well, and this is more likely to be achieved by talking about it with the right people early on.”

Survey results

  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2179 adults, of which 1848 were situated in England. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th and 13th October 2010.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
  • Three out of four (75%) English people do not set aside time with friends and family at this time of year to remember loved ones who have died, even around established national days like Remembrance Sunday.
  • What’s more, a clear majority think we’re more reserved about talking about dying, death and bereavement than our counterparts across the world who have traditions of commemorating their dead, with 62% believing those in other countries are more comfortable discussing loss and bereavement.
  • The results indicate that many people think dramatic change is needed to reverse this; with almost four in ten (37%) saying a national day like the Mexican Day of the Dead would make it easier to open up and talk about dying, death and bereavement.

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