Helena is Trinity's Communications Officer and is currently on the Charityworks Graduate Scheme. For Dying Matters Week 2019, she has written about the reaction she faces when she tells people she works in a hospice, and what actually working in one has taught her about death and why we need to start talking about it.

"Nobody likes to talk about death. Drop the D word in almost any setting and you can feel the temperature drop. For most people, it’s a fairly easy topic to avoid on a day to day basis. When you work in communications for a hospice, not so much.

When I tell someone I work in a hospice, there’s almost always the inevitable question of “isn’t that a really depressing place to work?” General perceptions of hospices aren’t great and there are a lot of myths to be busted about the care they provide. In reality, they care for people with months or even years left of their lives and they provide all sorts of care, including out in the community. It takes a lot of persuasion to convince people that a hospice is a great place to work but, nevertheless, I persist.

Dying Matters Week is here to back me up in this crusade. Each May, Hospice UK runs a campaign where lots of different organisations including charities, hospices, and funeral directors try to change attitudes and behaviour around death, dying and bereavement. This year’s theme is “Are we ready?” and is asking whether we’ve made the practical, emotional and financial preparations for death. Sounds pretty morbid, right? Not necessarily…

Talking about death doesn’t have to be morose and it’s arguably never been more important. 71% of the public agree that if people in Britain felt more comfortable discussing dying, death and bereavement it would be easier to have our end of life wishes met (and from our experience as a hospice, they’re right.) As it stands, only 35% of the public say they have written a will and only 27% have talked to someone about their funeral wishes.

Death continues to be shrouded in euphemism to such an extent that these euphemisms have now surpassed use of the term “died” in death announcements. These words can be a comfort at the worst of times and everyone has a right to decide what terms work best for them, but the word death isn’t something we should be scared of. Many acknowledge the benefits of avoiding euphemisms, particularly for children who can find it incredibly confusing.

At a time when we’ve never been more divided, we’re still avoiding meaningful conversation about the one thing we all have in common. Whilst talking about death and dying won’t solve the schisms in western society, a topic we’re inevitably all on the same side of wouldn’t be the worst place to start.

Talking about death won’t make it happen, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a pleasant conversation. It’s literally my job to talk about death, but sometimes that just makes it even more tiring to do so in my personal life.  It isn’t always easy, and it can take an emotional toll. But it isn’t always going to be hard either.

I’m not suggesting you start by grabbing a stranger on the street and spilling your deepest fears about the unknown. But it’s something to start thinking about. Who do you want to inherit your Xbox when you die? Do you know whether your loved ones are organ donors? Do you want “Spirit in the Sky” to play at your funeral? Not all conversations have to start with your worst fears. Coming to terms with death is a process, whether it’s your own or that of a loved one, and it’s important to go at your own pace. Even those who have worked with the dead and dying for years are still going through a process of becoming ready. But they all acknowledge that starting to talk about it is the best first step.

The main thing working in a hospice has taught me about talking about death is that, ironically, it helps you get on with living. Just because someone is classed as “dying” doesn’t mean they are any less alive than the rest of us. And living is so much easier to get on with if you don’t have to spend that time starting conversations that could have begun years ago.

When you’ve only got a few months left to live, you don’t want to have to broach the fact that, really, it should be your mum who gets your cat and not your partner who you know the cat not so secretly hates. Not every little detail can always be sorted, and we never know our own timeline, but starting from scratch adds another level of daunting to an already difficult time. People say life is what you make it. Well, so is death. And I’d much rather spend it in Bali than embroiled in a debate from finally telling my family who’s getting my brownie recipe.

The end of the journey is still part of the journey. Are we ready to talk about it?"