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The views and opinions expressed in our blog series are those of the authors and are not necessarily supported by CareSearch, Flinders University and/or the Australian Government Department of Health.
Wandering around your city or town, have you ever seen ‘pop-up’ chalk boards inviting you to contribute your thoughts on an issue affecting us all? If you were asked what one thing you’d want before you die, what would it be? Travel to a dreamt-of place? Marry your beloved? See your grandchildren born? See Collingwood win the AFL Grand Final (go the ‘pies!)?
Chances are you’ll see a ‘Before I die, I want to…’ board somewhere (Before I Die website). It’s an initiative that encourages open dialogue about death with the hope that it will engender compassion for those in our community who are living with a life-limiting illness. It’s a bit like a bucket list, really.
The 21st Century has exposed us to vast stories of loss and grief affecting many people in communities worldwide. The upsurge of these catastrophic events has altered the way we view the world and the way we relate to others in our communities. Often distressing events intrinsically motivate us to seek support via our own networks of family, friends and community; ultimately in times of crises we are reliant on one another for comfort as we continue to grieve individually and collectively. However, sometimes people turn inwards to grieve and support from the community is ignored. Recognising different grieving styles is imperative in grief therapy and explored herein.
The CareSearch team hosted a MOOC on death and dying (Dying2Learn) in 2016 with over 1,000 participants from 18 countries. The aim of the MOOC was to explore community attitudes in relation to death as a normal part of life, and to open conversations around death and dying. In week one participants were asked to look at language, and to ‘think of alternative words (or euphemisms) that are used to describe death’. We were surprised when we saw 471 participants providing 3,053 alternative words and posting blogs about language.
There are few human experiences that are truly universal and death is one of these. As individuals and as societies, we form an understanding of what death and dying is. And these views can be different between people, groups and countries. Our perceptions and attitudes are shaped by many things - our exposure to death, the realities of what causes deaths, how death is represented in our cultural artefacts such as films, novels, social media and art work, and by our societal, religious and spiritual beliefs and systems. As a community, Australia is often characterised as death denying. Many of us have a limited exposure to the realities of death and the dying process and confidence in the health and medical systems to keep us well and healthy.