Every year in May, Dying Matters and a wide range of partners including the Cheshire Living Well, Dying Well (CLWDW) Partnership promote "Dying Matters Awareness Week". This year the aim was to get people more active in planning for dying and death and help support family, friends and the wider community in times of grief and bereavement. The call to action for this year – was “What Can You Do?”
Andrew Bennett caught up with his colleagues to find out what they have done and what the highlight of Dying Matters Awareness Week was for them.
Frances Underhill, Cheshire Living Well, Dying Well Public Health and Wellbeing Worker, attended the "Art of Dying" exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery with local communities across Eastern Cheshire and Greater Manchester including hospices, schools, care homes, community groups and other local partners. Frances facilitated two Creating a Memory Box sessions and describes one of the many highlights;
“A lady with learning disabilities came to the gallery yesterday and she wanted to make a memory box to keep her ‘special bits and bobs in’ – her words!. There was also a memory tree where she asked to convey her message to her mother who had died. She couldn’t write very well so we said put something down on a bit of paper about how you are feeling. It was just a squiggle but it meant so much to her to have the squiggle, place on the tree with everyone else who had been visiting the gallery and express how she was feeling. It almost brought her to tears. It was such a lovely moment to help and support her and if we hadn’t been there she may not have had the opportunity to make her feelings known about her loved one.”
Gwen Hands, Volunteer Public Health and Wellbeing Worker, organised a Live for Today, Plan for Tomorrow workshop, which was attended by Citizens Advice Volunteers; “It was interesting to see how the attendees at the workshop enjoyed increasing their knowledge about planning for the future.”
Ruth Philp, Cheshire Living Well, Dying Well Public Health and Wellbeing Worker, delivered a Community Ambassador Session at the Hospice of the Good Shepherd in Chester; “I had a wonderful time at the Hospice of the Good Shepherd on Monday. We recruited nine new Community Ambassadors all of who were incredibly enthusiastic. One of those leads a bereavement group and thought that the work of the Cheshire Living Well, Dying Well Partnership really fitted with the support she provides.”
Jill Cox, Public Health and Wellbeing Associate for CLWDW; “I had a really interesting conversation with a couple of volunteers. We talked about the "All About Me" folder and how we could potentially use it with the people we visit. We also had a discussion about how we can take the development of compassionate and resilient communities forward in the areas they are involved in."
Catherine Holligan, Befriending Co-ordinator with St Luke’s Hospice, who works closely with CLWDW, described a visit she had made this week to a client; “A lady I visit has no family and friends that visit but she has a dog, which she loves massively. A couple of weeks ago the dog was poorly and had to be put to sleep by the vet. When I visited the lady this week, we looked at a photo album of pictures I had taken of the lady with the dog. We laughed and cried together, she stuck a picture on the wall and it was lovely for her to have that experience with someone else. She has photographs and an experience to remember.”
Rachel Zammit, Head of Public Health and Wellbeing at CLWDW Partnership, provided an overall impression of Dying Matters week; “The highlight for me is that Dying Matters week is a fantastic opportunity to bring attention to the projects and work that we deliver 52 weeks of the year. We have so many opportunities and initiatives to improve health and wellbeing and support both the public and those that work with the public to think, talk and take action in relation to life, age, death and loss.”
Rachel also provided a personal highlight of Dying Matters Awareness Week.
“I spoke to a family at the Art of Dying exhibition and they told me that their Mum had been a very creative person and enjoyed painting. When she died she wanted a cardboard coffin. She asked her children who were young at the time to spend time with their father painting the coffin with things that reminded them about Mummy. When it came to the funeral it meant that the children felt they were a part of the service and they had done what Mum had wanted. It shows once again, how arts and “crafting memories” can have a positive, life affirming affect on death and loss.”
Andrew Bennett, Public Health and Wellbeing Associate, Cheshire Living Well, Dying Well Partnership