Australians urged to get comfortable with the realities of death and dying

The Groundswell Project Australia is urging Australians to "get dead set" and have frank conversations about death and dying. Pictured is one of Sydney's major resting places for the dead – Waverley Cemetery in Bronte. Photo: Kgbo/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 License.

By TILEAH DOBSON

One of the saddest experiences in life is losing a loved one: family, friends or even pets. While some might find it uncomfortable to speak about matters relating to death, others say the conversation needs to be had.

The team from the Groundswell Project Australia is a good example of those calling for such conversations. The group – which aims to improve how individuals, organisations and communities die, care and grieve – is encouraging Australians to get used to talking about death and dying, calling on citizens to “get dead set” during their annual Dying to Know campaign.

The nationwide campaign is urging people of various ages and stages of life to cultivate knowledge and compassion about end-of-life matters – a topic experts say has been brought into high relief by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recent research conducted by Liz Lobb, Adjunct Professor of Palliative Care at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the University of Notre Dame, suggests people are experiencing grief more strongly now than before the pandemic.

“Although successful in reducing the spread of the virus and overall number of deaths, the public health measures have disrupted not only the way we live, but the way in which we die and grieve,” Lobb said.

“In Australia, deaths during Covid-19 also occurred in a milieu of loss upon loss on the back of the catastrophic east coast bushfires and a prolonged drought, meaning many people are managing these multiple losses,” she said.

“Rates of general mental distress have increased during the past two years of the pandemic, with Lifeline recording record call numbers and numerous reports of increased distress in young Australians and the general population.

“We are now starting to learn more about the mental health of Australians who have been bereaved during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Funeral companies are dedicated to offering support for the loved ones of a deceased individual. The Dying to Know campaign aims to get Australians prepared for the realities of death ahead of time. Photo: Helen Rudolf/Wikimedia Commons, published Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 License.

The Dying to Know campaign aims to help bridge the gap by providing “death literacy”, which helps people gain the knowledge, compassion and practical skills needed to support and assist others in end-of-life choices.

While businesses such as funeral homes offer support in the immediate aftermath of a death, the Dying to Know campaign aims to help Australians be prepared for death ahead of time by encouraging people to create a will, and to have conversations about death with loved ones, so their wishes are known in advance, ensuring appropriate care, end-of-life decisions and funerals.

With the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 passing the lower house of the NSW Parliament late last year, discussion of end-of-life matters has gained traction in recent months – something Dying to Know campaign manager Cherelle Martin has welcomed.

“Death is often over-medicalised and institutionalised. Our superstitions, fears, discomfort and lack of knowledge about dying affect our approach to end-of-life. However, we know that Australians think conversations about death are important,” Martin said.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 passed the lower house of the NSW Parliament in November. Pictured with a hard copy of the bill are long term supporters of voluntary assisted dying, Member for Lake Macquarie Greg Piper (left) and Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich (right). Photo: Alex Greenwich/Facebook.

“People often feel ill-equipped to act or start a conversation. The risk here for us all is that we do not have the knowledge or understanding around how to best support a loved one who is dying, caring or grieving. Sadly, this can mean that end-of-life experiences are not aligned with an individual’s values or wishes,” she said.

“By normalising conversations around death and dying, Australians can ‘get dead set’. The pandemic has brought death and dying. Our mortality is a part of our collective consciousness like never before. This is an opportunity to continue to strengthen our collective approach to these important matters.”

The Dying to Know campaign culminates in Dying to Know Day, which is held on 8 August. For more information, visit www.dyingtoknowday.com.

People are also encouraged to join the conversation and share their experiences via social media using the hashtag #GetDeadSet and #DyingToKnowDay.

Tileah Dobson is the news editor and sub-editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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