The way we talk about dying matters.

Dying Matters Awareness Week is an opportunity each year to spark important conversations that will ultimately help people who are dying or grieving. This year’s theme – the way we talk about Dying Matters – highlights the importance of speaking openly about death.

Without these conversations, patients and their families might not get the information, support, and care that they need, or have the knowledge and understanding they need to process their emotions. The avoidance of talking about death and dying can play a big part in delaying access to palliative care services in South and East Europe.

Across our network, nurses, doctors, patients and families understand the power of being open and honest when it comes to end-of-life care.

Support and empowerment through honesty and transparency

“Visiting patients in their homes every day, I learned that each person is unique,” says Nurse Bojana, who has worked at BELhospice in Serbia for over 17 years. “Building trust between the patient, their family, and our team is paramount, and clearly explaining their options and treatment plan helps them to feel involved and empowered.”

Dr Petrescu from Hospice Casa Sperantei in Romania believes you need honesty, patience and kindness to be able to fight for patients to have a good quality of life: “It is important to listen to them, do not judge anyone or anything. Essentially, you have to be human.”

Hospice Casa Sperantei Nurse Pîrvan notes the value of connection that comes with having open conversations: “I sit on the edge of the bed, I listen to their pain, I relieve their wounds and dispel the loneliness – sometimes loneliness is a much bigger burden than the disease itself. And I’m glad to give them hope and the promise that I will return.”

Giving and sharing strength

After surviving cancer 7 times, and losing her sister, mother-in-law and husband to cancer within the space of a year, Geta became a hospice volunteer. She says she was inspired by the support and openness her family received from their hospice team, including through counselling sessions to help them understand and process their diagnosis and the emotions that come with it.

“Discovering hospice changed my perception of everything,” she says. “Here I learned to fight, to hope, I learned to smile again.”

Geta’s personal experience helps her to provide valuable support to hospice patients – she always has positive words of encouragement but is also always honest about the treatment process.

“We are like a family here,” Geta continues. “I know what each patient likes or dislikes, if they drink tea or coffee, prefer music or silence, eat lemon cake or not. My life would not be worth living if someone told me I could not come here anymore. This is the place that gives me strength.”

The way we talk about dying matters

“I see death every day, sometimes it is unavoidable,” says Dr Sandu from Romania. “That knowledge helps to manage emotions. We share with our patients that death does not define them.”

Dr Sandu says it is important not to focus on how unfair a diagnosis might feel, and to instead focus on ensuring the correct care, support, help and hope that a person needs to be able to live a life they can enjoy with their loved ones, until their final days.

“Get to know the patient,” says Nurse Boka. “Understand what they enjoy, their difficulties, what they worry about. Talk with them honestly and openly and, most of all, listen.”

Ultimately, every person is different, and being open, honest and transparent also means giving people the space and opportunity to acknowledge death and the emotions around it in their own way.

“Life is a beautiful miracle,” says Angela, a hospice patient. “Death, I realise now, is a certainty. Some of us become more aware of it, but it is important to focus on the time you have left.”

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