Have you ever tried to broach the topic of end-of-life wishes with a loved one and been met with stunned silence? People often report this kind of experience, and research indicates that many people are uncomfortable with discussing death and dying. This leaves many Australians unprepared for death and the decisions that need to be made when a person is dying.
There is speculation that the relocation of death from the family home into medical facilities, and the medical advances capable of prolonging life, have resulted in our communities being less exposed to death and therefore perhaps less equipped to deal with it. In response to this, there has been increasing interest in recent years in ensuring dying is acknowledged in the community. A key event in this domain is Dying to Know Day, held annually on August 8th. This day of action is dedicated to bringing to life conversations and community actions around death, dying and bereavement.
Over the past three years, CareSearch contributed to building community awareness and conversations about death by hosting Dying2Learn, a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about death and dying. We created the course to provide a community platform for open social discussion and connection about death, dying, and palliative care. Over the three years that we held Dying2Learn, a total of 4,717 people joined us online for the 5-week course to consider how society engages with death through language, rituals, media, and art, the role of medicine in death, and the implications of the digital world for dying. Further information on the learning modules covered and examples of the types of activities that were in the course are provided on the Dying2Learn website. This includes a selection of short videos and infographics from the course that give you a taste of the types of issues discussed. You can even vote for your favourite.
Dying2Learn participants held candid and thought-provoking discussions about death and dying and reflected on what death means for them and their communities. Based on the positive feedback we received from participants each year, this online experience made a real difference. As one participant noted, while dealing with family issues:
Based on participants’ own words and responses to evaluation questions, results indicated that Dying2Learn helped them to feel more comfortable talking about death, to feel better able to cope with death, and to strengthen their awareness of death as a normal part of life. To share our learnings from Dying2Learn, we have produced a series of articles and conference presentations, which can be found on the Dying2Learn website.
At the heart of the Dying2Learn MOOC was a desire to encourage conversations about death and dying – not just among participants within the online course, but also out in the ‘real world’ with family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, and clients. To facilitate the continuance of this conversation by encouraging local conversations, and in recognition of Dying to Know Day, CareSearch has produced a Dying2Learn Kit for Dying to Know Day. This kit includes resources developed from the Dying2Learn courses that were held in 2016, 2017, and 2018. The kit is free to order and the resources can be used to help start your first/next conversation about death and dying or to be given away at your next event.
Anne Rault is one participant from the 2018 Dying2Learn course who is now taking the conversation out into her local community. She is hosting a Death Café on Dying to Know Day on the 8th of August at Red Door Café in Moruya.
This outcome epitomises CareSearch’s motivation to run the Dying2Learn course. For more information about Anne’s event and others throughout Australia during this week, see the list of Dying to Know Day events on the Dying to Know Day website.
You can find out more about what we did in Dying2Learn at https://www.caresearch.com.au/Dying2Learn.
For more information about Dying to Know Day, see https://www.dyingtoknowday.org/.
Dr Lauren Miller-Lewis, CareSearch Research Associate, Flinders University