This week (10th to 16th May) is Dying Matters Awareness Week, and this year we are focusing on the importance of being ‘In A Good Place to Die’.

As well as making sure that patients are physically in the right place for them when they reach the end of their life, it’s also important to make sure that their psychological and practical needs are met. It’s not just the patient but family members we support, too. Hospice Social Workers, Michael Geary and Sophie Bishop and Counselling Services Lead, Ella Williams told us how they support patients, families and carers.

How the hospice helps

Within the Social Work Team, Michael and Sophie’s work is led by a current or developing need identified by the person themselves, a family member, or someone who has referred them. The support they require may be practical or emotional. Sophie explained: ‘They might need housing support, care funding support, support in sorting out their children’s care when they’re no longer around, or it might just be sitting with the carer and listening to how sad or guilty they feel about the situation they’re in.’

‘A lot of what we try to do is clarify things for people to try and take the stress away, or at least keep the stress to a minimum,’ Michael added.

Alongside the work of the Social Work Team, Ella and the Counselling Team offer a brief intervention at the right time for patients and those who matter the most to them, whether that’s their direct family (including children, through The Seahorse Project), friends or neighbours. This support might be at the beginning, when the patient has been given a diagnosis and is potentially dealing with shock, or when things change or deteriorate.

‘What we hope to do is empower and enable people to live the lives they want to and need to at that time,’ explained Ella. ‘It’s not just talking therapy; we use a lot of art, music and movement to express what cannot be said or if the individual isn’t able to communicate verbally.’

Approaching end of life is a unique time and the Patient and Family Support Teams help patients, families, and carers to come to terms with the fact that something very different is happening. There are lots of different emotions that people face when they come under hospice care, no two cases are the same, and so every person is treated according to their individual needs.

‘What is good to one person isn’t necessarily good for another,’ said Sophie. ‘Everyone will have different reasons for what’s most important to them and our job is about really hearing that.’

‘There’s no recipe,’ said Michael. ‘We do the best we can, but we have to respect that it is a difficult part of life.’

‘Being in a “good place” to die involves planning ahead, so we will always have conversations with patients and their families about their wishes, even if we can’t always fulfil those wishes,’ Ella said. ‘We can help families to have those conversations about where the patient might feel the most comfortable dying, whether that’s in their own home or in the hospice.’

A difficult conversation

Talking about your end of life plans helps to ensure that everyone, from the hospice teams to loved ones, is on the same page and helps to avoid feelings of guilt.

‘It can be a lonely place and understandably there’s a lot of fear,’ Ella continued. ‘We can offer some level of reassurance, but we can mostly offer empathy and listen to what it’s like to be them towards the end of their life.

‘For families, it’s important to talk about it because they’re also planning for their future. There may be questions such as “will it be okay for me to have another relationship?”, “how am I going to adapt to all the changing roles that I’m expected to take on?” “I’ve never cooked before or looked at the finances; how will I cope?”. We give space for people to explore these thoughts; it may be that they have received judgement from others when they try to have those conversations day-to-day.’

‘It gives back some control, a sense of closure and peace,’ added Sophie.


To find out more about Dying Matters Awareness Week and the work that Dying Matters do, visit dyingmatters.org

For more information about the care and support services that we offer, visit the ‘How we help’ pages on our website.