Death and dying are a part of everyone's life. But, are we comfortable thinking about, and talking about, death and dying?
2020 has taught us many things about ourselves, our society and how we care. It has been a year where death has become a more recognised and unpredictable companion. We have seen people having to change their public and personal behaviours and to deal with changes in how we engage with health systems, provide and seek care, and mourn. Is this making it easier or are we more reluctant to think about and talk about death and dying?
Our National Palliative Care Strategy recognises that people require evidence-based and person-centred care at the end of their lives and there are many systems requirements to enable access and delivery of quality palliative care. However, the strategy also reminds us that death is a part of life and that for many people an impending death closes down their social interactions and leaves them feeling isolated and alone.
Acknowledging the reality of death and dying can also help people to prepare for the end of life in ways that are meaningful to them and their families and carers. If we cannot think about and talk about death and dying, people who are ageing, caring for someone at the end of life, living with a terminal illness and dying, or grieving over the death of a family member or friend, may end up isolated and unable to share what is happening to them.
CareSearch has been supporting community knowledge and discussion with evidence-based resources for over ten years. For three years, between 2016 and 2018, we also ran a well-attended and successful massive open online course called Dying2Learn. This course was a chance to learn about, and talk about, death and dying.
It was not a discussion about palliative care provision but an exploration of some facets of death and dying in Australia. We covered topics such as the language we use to describe death and our funeral practices and rituals. We looked at how medicine shapes our choices and practices as well as the way we represent death in books and films and art. We explored a range of digital issues relating to online mourning and managing social media accounts after death. We even talked about bucket lists!
In the process of running Dying2Learn, we found out a number of things. We found that people were interested in learning about and talking about death and dying. People from across Australia joined in. For some it was the first time they had been involved in online learning. We saw that Dying2Learn provided an avenue for people to exchange views and beliefs around death and dying as well as access new information and perspectives. Many were surprised with the different things covered each week. Our post course evaluation showed that participants not only found it interesting and useful but that it helped them feel more comfortable talking about death and dying.
This year, we are running the Dying2Learn again. It will start on 5 October and run for five weeks. Again, we will have modules, which will highlight different viewpoints and elements around death and dying and encourage discovery and sharing.
To save a spot and find out more, visit: www.caresearch.com.au/Dying2Learn.
Professor Jennifer Tieman, Director for CareSearch and the Research Centre for Palliative Care, Death and Dying (RePadd), College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University