The Big D

By Annabel Jeffery

“Not to be too deep”, but death is inevitable. We don’t know how, nor when, but it is unequivocally part of the human experience – something that nobody can escape. It is beyond race, class and gender.

Evidently, the worldwide pandemic has emphasised this more than ever: over 40,000 confirmed deaths just in the UK, with thousands more across the world, including those who have not had access to life-saving treatment for other health conditions. Multiply this and you are given the number of friends and families to be affected by this for the rest of their lives.

Yet, our society does not talk about it.

“Loss” and ” passing away” are prime examples of this, with many fearing the use of the word “death”, in particular amongst those who are grieving.

While we may talk about the death immediately after or for a few months after, inevitably life carries on, leaving friends and family members of the deceased to carry on alone, also cautious of upsetting each other.

As someone who has experienced this myself, I decided to start a poll on my Instagram in order to gain perspective on this issue.

Here, I asked my Instagram followers , ranging from the ages of 13-55, with the majority being of the teenage demographic, the following questions:

  • Would you know what to say/would you feel comfortable talking to somebody who is grieving?
  • If not, would you reach out for advice on how to talk to someone who is grieving?
  • How long would you say that the “grieving period” lasts for?
  • If you have lost someone, has it felt different to deal with during this lockdown?

The results were varied: Overall, 50% said that they felt comfortable to speak to someone who is grieving and of those who said they didn’t, 86% said that they would reach out for advice on how to talk to someone who is grieving. Considering that most people want to help, the generally well-intentioned results didn’t entirely shock me.

However, the responses to my third question were rather varied, from comments such as “A couple of weeks”, ” 1 year” and “3-4 years”; to “Forever”, ” It never ends” and “You can only learn to cope”. The general consensus I received was that it depends on the relationship between the deceased and the bereft.

Furthermore, in response to my final question, those grieving during lockdown gave comments such as: “There are no distractions from it.” and ” It hasn’t set in, it won’t until after lockdown” and many agreed that being at home where most memories are made escalated their pain.

The truth is that grief for most people, while a collective experience, is also extremely isolating and does not have an expiration date. Unfortunately, it is something that nobody tends to fully understand until they finally go through it. This does not mean, however, that it should not be talked about. It is a trauma that, in my opinion, needs to be addressed head on, now more than ever.

This social taboo does not end there. Sudden deaths, like those faced by many families during the pandemic, mean that these important discussions do not happen and many questions are left unanswered. We need people to feel that they can open up about death, even during a pandemic.

So, where does Plymouth enter into this conversation?

In October 2019, Plymouth became the first “Compassionate City” in England. According to the local hospice charity St Luke’s: “A compassionate city or community is one that recognises that care for one another at times of crisis and loss is not simply a task solely for health and social services but is everyone’s responsibility.”

Places such as schools and cafes have since been involved in this, with the aim of educating as many as possible about death and opening up the discussion.

Are you ready to start the conversation?

To find out more visit : https://www.stlukes-hospice.org.uk/plymouth-a-compassionate-city/

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