“What would you like to do before you die?”

This was one of the questions we used to engage with local people during Dying Matters Awareness Week (9-15 May). Although this is something I’m often thinking about, it was difficult for many to pick one thing…

Working in a Hospice means that talk of dying, living and death is unavoidable. Having those conversations is not always easy, but they are important in helping others have a better experience of end of life care and for individuals to be in control when that time does come. So many of us can be anxious or fearful of death; what will be the experience be like, what will happen afterwards, what will it mean for those we leave behind? These are questions that many of us will have running through our minds at some stage in our lives but may also be reluctant to say them out aloud.

This shows how much compassion there is in our communities and why it is important to not think of death as a taboo subject.

Dying Matters Awareness Week was the ideal opportunity to get people of all ages to have more open and honest conversations about death and dying. Joining BrumYODO (a local spin to national ‘You Only Die Once’ initiative) – a group of local citizens, community organisations, undertakers, doctors and other hospices, meant we were able to have a stronger voice in the ‘Big Conversation’, the theme of the week.

Across the country, there were many events and activities throughout the week and our region was no different; from creative workshops and story-telling events to the ‘Before I Die’ blackboards for people to share their thoughts. Our Hospice also hosted our first ever ‘Death Café’ – an increasingly popular concept, they provide a chance for people to talk and listen freely about their thoughts, anxieties and experiences around death, dying or loss in an informal and relaxed environment such as cafes. For Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, hosting its first Death Café in a city centre cafe meant we could take the conversation out of a place where death happens and into other spaces,

So with a cup of tea or coffee in hand (and cake for some), the conversations commenced. In the small group I was in, during the hour we discussed everything from where we’d like to be at the end of life to what song we wanted playing at our funeral. One memorable conversation was with a man of Caribbean descent who spoke of how the Death Cafe was an opportunity for him to feel confident in discussing death and bereavement. He felt that he wanted to better support his local community in having those discussions, especially those who have immigrated to the UK and are isolated without family here. This shows how much compassion there is in our communities and why it is important to not think of death as a taboo subject.

As a Hospice CEO, I feel there is a role for hospices in helping to support and promote the great work of local people and small charities so we can reach more people. We already do a lot of work with diverse local communities and we hope to continue the ‘BrumYODO’ spirit across Birmingham and Sandwell. The week highlighted that more still needs to be done for people to feel confident and at ease to have those difficult conversations. Whether it’s talking about what is on your bucket list or by selecting the soundtrack to your life, let’s keep talking about it.

So what did I pick in the end?

Visit the place where my father was born. That’s what I’d like to do before I die…