Second Harrogate & Knaresborough Death Cafe 12 April 2018

The second Harrogate and Knaresborough Death Café was, once again, well attended and we had a free-flowing and light-hearted conversation – after all, comedy is a means of helping us deal with difficult subject matter. The conversation focussed on three main themes: our familiarity with death; helping someone to have a good death (including choosing the time and time and means of one’s own death); and balancing the wishes of the deceased and those left behind at a funeral.

We reflected on the changes in demography and society, which mean that few people experience someone dying until they are relatively mature or are in a caring profession. This has contributed to it becoming one of the last remaining taboos. Neither has our philosophical approach to mortality has kept pace with medical advances and/or social evolution, meaning that we don’t know how to behave when we face some of life’s biggest questions; one of the most significant being ‘How should we die?’.

Several participants shared their stories of how they had supported terminally ill people to have fulfilling lives in their last few months. Several talked about how medical intervention in certain circumstances can be counterproductive and it is important to engage the dying person in decisions about the relative value of additional medical intervention.

One told of how compassionate care from a hospice had helped minimise the cocktail of drugs a relative was taking so that his last days could be as comfortable as possible, rather than suffering side effects from drugs that were designed to treat conditions that would not alter their immediate outcome.  

Another participant, with experience of caring for terminally ill relatives, highlighted the value of having a neutral party to facilitate difficult discussions between family and the medical profession, placing the dying person’s needs centre stage. This experience had encouraged her to go on and train to be an End of Life Doula – someone who is a non-medical, but informed companion, who supports dying people and their families, both emotionally and practically.

However, it is also important for people caring for the dying to have regard for their own wellbeing, and they may be left not knowing if anyone will do the same for them should they face a similar situation. 

There was some discussion about how to encourage people to talk about their funeral wishes. Again, it was agreed that a neutral third party may be helpful in this regard. 

People recognised the dichotomy between meeting the wishes of the deceased and those left behind.  It appears that there is only one opportunity to get it right. However, funerals generally take place when the bereaved are least able to make decisions and to have a positive experience from the event. The day itself can be very traumatic, when mourners are placed centre stage, whilst being emotionally vulnerable. There was value, it seems, in having a simple committal early on, followed by a more relaxed memorial service at a later date when people are more resilient and there are no time constraints for the service itself.

Many families are not aware that the Coroner needs to give permission for a body to be released and prepared for a funeral. This may be delayed due to complex circumstances and impact on what people can do, for example, whether they are able to embalm the body for viewing prior to the cremation or burial. 

This serves to highlight that, even when people have planned their wishes in advance, there can still be surprises.


Thanks for this and sorry i missed it. Is there a further date?

Posted by Shan oakes

Add a comment