Let’s talk about Death

HPCA hosted its first Death Café on 5th April ahead of Advance Healthcare Planning Day on 16th April and Hospice Week 1st-8th May.

What is a “Death cafe”? Jon Underwood to create the non-profit organisation death cafe in 2011. Jon says that western society has outsourced discussions about death to doctors, nurses, priests and undertakers and in doing so we have lost control of one of the most significant events we ever have to face. People are uncomfortable in talking about death and dying and even in the idea of taking about death. Ellen Goodman, founder of The Conversation Project comments that “it is always too soon to have the conversation, until it is too late.”

HPCA believe that as financial planning for retirement is important so that we don’t face financial hardship in old age and we need to start saving for retirement while we are still young and fit, so we should start thinking about our future health needs, even while we are still young and healthy. This is not easy as it is hard to imagine that one day we won’t be young and healthy; and talking about death, dying and end of life issues is a taboo in our society.

Before we go on holiday we plan the journey so that we end up at the right destination. In the same way, we need to see our lives as a journey and plan for both the beginning and the end.

Having a discussion about our wishes and preferences for our care if we experience serious illness or injury may be difficult to start but it is something that many people have found very rewarding.

The death café was a small group with hospice CEOs, HPCA staff, colleagues and media gathered to talk about our experiences, our own plans and wishes and how to engage people in the conversation about death. Most of us agreed that we would prefer to die at home and that death shouldn’t be a medical event but a family event with medical help to ensure comfort and care in our own homes. Dr Linda Holding from Discovery health described the new Advanced Illness benefit for Discovery members who need medical and nursing care in their own homes. This is a refreshing change from medial aid payments only applying to in-hospital treatment.

We shared information about books we’ve read such as Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Peter Coghlan’s In the Blink of an Eye; movies we’ve seen – Wit, The Intouchables; ideas – do you have a will, where do you keep your passwords, what to do with your Facebook page (you can chose whether your account is memorialized or permanently deleted from Facebook).

Following the death café, HPCA will provide materials for hospices to hold their own death cafes – hospice CEOs that attended felt it would be a good idea to start with staff and then to encourage death cafés in the community; and a template for a personal advanced healthcare plan. We hope this will be publicised in national and community media to encourage people to have their own conversations. 

Many thanks to Latitude 33 in Bree Street for providing the venue, coffee and pastries and to Jenny Handley Performance Management for organising the event.