Reflection and life planning after COVID-19
How North London Hospice and the London Borough of Barnet Patient Engagement Group (PEG) are approaching an event to stimulate community conversations about life planning and thinking, in the aftermath of covid-19.
What makes a good death? It’s either a conversation starter or a conversation killer. Starting a discussion about death and dying has never been easy but at some stage it’s usually one we all need to have. Whether it’s about your own wishes or someone important in your life – we need to talk about it.
And this is our challenge! As care providers, North London Hospice, Jewish Care and our partners within the London Borough of Barnet PEG, were tasked in the autumn with devising an event that would highlight the importance of advance care planning for Dying Matters week 2021 and beyond.
Such an event would aim to;
stimulate conversations about what matters most to people and those close to them;
highlight the importance of listening when someone wishes to speak about what matters to them;
appreciate that such engagement could lead to a better understanding about an individual’s preferences for the end of life and not just about medical treatment in an emergency.
At North London Hospice we serve a community of over one million people and care for 3000 patients a year so talking about death is our ‘natural home’ but planning an event that engages the public to feel at ease talking about what is often considered a taboo topic is never easy.
In our experience, the biggest hurdle is getting started, and this year, we aim to build on our experiences of 2020 and start conversations about what we can do as individuals, support each other and unite as a caring and kind community.
An event like this is a chance to enable people to become more comfortable talking about their life wishes and preferences. In turn this makes more resilient, healthier, caring communities who will have less demand on health services.
When we saw the newly developed What Matters to Me videos, developed by St Gilesmedical and the EOLC Think Tank, we knew we had a golden resource. It would allow us to create an easily accessible, not too lengthy event, focusing on living and not with dying, with the potential to run beyond Dying Matters week and, for North London Hospice, across the other London boroughs we serve. It could be part of a wider piece of Advance Care Planning communication.
However, after the recent unprecedented time we’ve been through, we knew that whatever resource we were using, planning for any event would be a challenge. We reflected upon the impact of an event that would open the door to discussing death, dying and loss in a public space. We thought about how individual and collective capacity was stretched in so many ways. We spoke about people having ‘death-fatigue’ and respect some people would not want to be involved in such an event.
Considering the population size of the boroughs we serve, we also knew how important and relevant it would be to lead such an event, to provide a safe place where these conversations about ‘what matters to you’ were happening.
Equally we recognised in the aftermath of this pandemic such an event, which got people to think about what matters to them, is now more relevant than it had been before. Lockdowns have also meant we’ve had more time to think about what we’re most grateful for and what matters most to us. Like people who are at the end of life, arguably we have been re-sensitised to the little things and moments that are important to us, such as a homely, sunny room, birdsong and enjoying time with the people that matter to us. Those basic things that give us value and purpose.
So in May 2021 we will be rolling out a public event using the What Matters to Me videos to encourage people to make time to think about life planning, wishes and preferences.
But what will this event look and feel like?
It is important to us to make this easy for people to want to attend. Something relaxed, which can fit easily and virtually into a day’s routine and their home. We want to create a relaxed sofa-style ambience, sitting soft and nothing too ‘expert’ or zoom heavy!
So, we’re inviting community groups to join us with their members for a ‘film screening’ of the What Matters to Me video, being organised with one of the local Healthwatch services. This will be followed by the opportunity for community groups to hold a bespoke event for their group members, offering a focus for specific groups of people such as dementia, faith or residents’ groups etc.
The What Matters to Me video will include a few words from a representative involved in the development of the film. There is also opportunity for other local clinicians and/or public figures to join us (on their sofas!).
There’ll be time afterwards for a short discussion about what thoughts the film has raised or simply time for personal reflection.
For attendees, a take-away guide signposting people to local support services should those be required afterwards, will be provided.
This public event is about reaching out broadly, deeply, and widely to North London, to connect and ignite the power of starting a meaningful conversation.