A Conversation Starter around Death and Dying
By Lisa Brighton, Simon Etkind, Sophie Pask, Leanne Hammacott, & Catherine Evans; on behalf of the Cicely Saunders Institute Patient and Public Involvement Group, 25th May 2017
The Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London held an exciting new Conversation Starter around Death and Dying as part of Dying Matters week 2017. Over 100 members of the public and healthcare professionals came together for a screening of the film ‘Two Weeks’, followed by an expert panel discussion with their reflections around death and dying.
With an aging population, open conversations about dying are increasingly important. Supported by the King’s College London and Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Grant schemes, the Patient and Public Involvement team at the Cicely Saunders Institute organised an exciting evening of film and discussion. This public engagement event intended to provide space for and promote discussions about palliative and end-of-life care, and associated research - and did so with great success.
The film was introduced by Baroness Julia Neuberger: rabbi, cross-bench peer, former chief executive of the King’s Fund, writer and broadcaster. Written and directed by Steve Stockman, ‘Two Weeks’ is a bitter-sweet comedy which follows a family's day to day struggle to accept their mother's advancing illness, intercut with the mother’s own reflections on her life and her family. Starring two-time Academy Award winner Sally Field, it has been described as “touching,” “truthful” and “surprisingly funny” - and the audience certainly reacted with both laughter and with tears.
The evening then continued with an expert panel discussion, chaired by Kate Heaps (Chief Executive of Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice). The panel included people with a variety of experience relevant to palliative care, research, and the arts; Lucinda Jarrett (Artistic Director of Rosetta Life), Sanjay Chadha (a person living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), with 20 years’ experience of public engagement and campaigning, both as a MS Society trustee, and as a palliative and end-of-life care working group member), and Dr Katherine Sleeman (Consultant in Palliative Medicine at King’s College Hospital and NIHR Clinician Scientist at King’s College London).
The panel and the audience reflected on the challenges around family dynamics at the end of life highlighted by the film, and the role of palliative care professionals in providing a facilitative role. The psychological and social challenges of end of life care that were pictured in ‘Two Weeks’, resonated particularly with attendees, and there was also a focus on symptom control and spiritual wellbeing: very fitting given the holistic approach of palliative care. Audience members reflected on their own personal experiences of the deaths of loved ones, even noting their fears around their own death in the future.
At the post-event drinks reception, this buzz of discussion continued. Many took part in an engagement activity asking people to write their response to the Conversation Starter event by completing two sentences: “I feel...” and “I want to talk more about”. These reflections, pinned up for others to read, included:
- “Motivated to start conversations with my patients & encourage the medics to think about what they are doing”
- “I want to sort out practicalities so everything is in place for when I die”
- “Glad to have had this opportunity to laugh, cry and reflect on family, friends and colleagues”
I want to talk more about...
- “Dying with my mum, who is deteriorating yet we as a family avoid the conversation”
- “Managing pain and discomfort when dying”
- “Educating the public about death, dying and end of life care”
Word cloud of responses to “I feel...” and “I want to talk more about...” questions
Providing time, space, and inspiration from the arts effectively brought together over 100 people from a variety of backgrounds to discuss a topic that remains taboo in our society. The Patient and Public Involvement team at the Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London were thrilled with the response to the first event of this kind they have run, and will look for opportunities to continue a series of these events in the future.
If you would like to find out more, please contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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