Starting a conversation about death is not an easy thing. It’s a subject many of us don’t like to think about, let alone speak about. However, it’s an important conversation to have, especially with those closest to you.
This week is Dying Matters Awareness Week. Held annually, it is an opportunity to consider these difficult topics, find out information and start these conversations.
The topics of death, bereavement and grief are highly individual – we all approach them in our own way and find different things may help. If you are facing losing someone, have lost someone or need to talk about these subjects, there are resources available. A place to start can be the NHS website, speak about it to your GP or to someone close to you.
Talking About Dying
They’ve worked with Kathryn Mannix, author of With The End in Mind and a former palliative care doctor to highlight five books that can help us think about death, dying and grief. These books are:
Grandpa by John Burningham
Dear Life by Rachel Clarke
Waiting For The Last Bus Home by Richard Holloway
Grief Is A Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
Grief Works by Julia Samuels
You’ll find these titles and others in our Bereavement and Grief collections – available on our Health and Wellbeing page – for both adults and for young people and children.
Lots of charities also provide resources to help start end of life discussions. The British Lung Foundation provides advice for talking about your own death and talking to someone near the end of their life.
Cancer Research UK provides information about supporting children and further links to organisations such as Marie Curie that can also give support. Similarly, the Sue Ryder charity provides information for families to talk about dying with children and online support for bereavement.
Bereavement, Grief and Loss
As mentioned above, the NHS has information on the feelings, symptoms and behaviours that can manifest in the process of bereavement and loss, while Marie Curie provide bereavement support services and information about coping with feelings if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Cruse has also worked with The Samaritans to create ‘Facing The Future‘ – support groups for people bereaved by suicide. You can also find suicide bereavement support on the Warwickshire County Council Mental Health and Wellbeing pages or visit dearlife.org.uk.
For young people and children
Many of the organisations already mentioned above have advice and support for young people and children, both for opening conversations about death and bereavement and for supporting them when facing a loss.
Below are a few resources that may also be useful:
Mentally Healthy Schools: Tips and suggestions for parents on how to start a conversation with their child about someone who has passed away, or is no longer in their child’s life.
Young Minds: Support for young people to navigate the feelings a loss can provoke.
Winston’s Wish: A charity that supports bereaved children, young people, their families and the professionals who support them.
Death Positive Libraries and Death Cafes
You may have heard about both of the above initiatives and events that happen in libraries, some of which have been in Warwickshire.
Death Positive Libraries aim to remove the barriers to talking about death and dying through a range of activities such as book displays, hosting death cafés or signposting to resources relevant to talking about death.
Death Cafés are not a bereavement support group. Instead, they provide a space for people to meet up to discuss death and to make the most of our lives.
There are also Warwickshire-based organisations that can help. One such group is Compassionate Communities – you’ll find details about their Rugby-based group here or visit the Warwickshire County Council Mental Health and Wellbeing pages for more local resources.
Books on Bereavement, Grief and Loss
You’ll find titles available on our library catalogue and in our BorrowBox collection that can help to start conversations about death and dying or provide support when someone has died. We have titles aimed at adults, young people and children, some available as books and as eBooks or on eAudio.
Here are a selection, with their accompanying ‘blurb’.
Internationally renowned psychiatrist and author Irvin Yalom has devoted his career to counselling those suffering from anxiety and grief. But never had he faced the need to counsel himself until his wife, esteemed feminist author Marilyn Yalom, was diagnosed with cancer.
In this book, Marilyn and Irvin share how they took on profound new struggles: Marilyn to die a good death, Irvin to live on without her. In alternating accounts of their last months together and Irvin’s first months alone, they offer us a rare window into coping with death and the loss of one’s beloved.
In January 2020, Amy Bloom travelled with her husband Brian to Switzerland, where he was helped by Dignitas to end his life while Amy sat with him and held his hand. Brian was terminally ill and for the last year of his life Amy had struggled to find a way to support his wish to take control of his death, to not submerge ‘into the darkness of an expiring existence’.
Written with piercing insight and wit, ‘In Love’ is Bloom’s intimate, authentic and startling account of losing Brian, first slowly to the disease of Alzheimer’s, and then on becoming a widow.
Sasha Bates is a psychotherapist specialising in grief, trauma and PTSD. When her husband dies suddenly and she is plunged into the messy reality of shock, anger and denial, does her theoretical knowledge help her at all?
In a searingly honest memoir covering the first terrible year of loss, the author creates some perspective from amidst the depths of her pain with insights into psycho-therapeutic theory, offering raw and moving descriptions of how grief feels from the inside alongside the theories that her training taught her about this heart-rending process.
In ‘Radical Acts of Love’, Janie Brown, oncology nurse of 30 years and counsellor of cancer patients with terminal diagnoses, recounts 20 conversations she has had with the dying; including those personally close to her. Each conversation uncovers a different perspective on, and experience of, death, while at the same time exploring its universalities.
As well as offering an extremely sensitive and wise insight into our final moments, Brown offers practical ways to facilitate the shift from feeling helpless about death to feeling hopeful; from fear to acceptance; from feeling disconnected and alone, to becoming part of the wider, collective story of all our mortality.
Dr Alice Carter is no starry-eyed Jane Austen heroine. After all, if your dad left without a backward glance and you found your last boyfriend in bed with another guy, you wouldn’t believe in romance either. And the voices in Alice’s head – you know, the ones that tell you you’re not good enough, not pretty enough, not clever enough – well, these voices are very loud. Very loud indeed. Especially when the proud and disagreeable son of one of her patients starts challenging her every decision.
Edward Russell might have a big job and a posh voice, but Alice is determined not to let him get to her, especially if she can get her inner monologue to stop with the endless self-sabotage. And Edward, it turns out, may be less of a prat than he first appears; he’s certainly handy in a crisis.
London, March 2020. Angela is reeling from the sudden death of her husband Robert. As the world hunkers down against the pandemic, she and her two children – home from university – lock down in their grief and remembrance. Except Angela has this gnawing sensation, a tightness in her chest every time she thinks of Robert. He could be harsh, critical, often belittling in front of others. But he did his best – didn’t he?
As lockdown drags on with its do-gooder neighbours and their cake-baking and competitive Clapping for Carers, Angela makes a disturbing discovery on Robert’s old phone: messages from a woman who clearly had a close relationship with her late husband.
Annie Stanley, All At Sea by Sue Teddern
Sometimes the end is only the beginning. Annie is single, unemployed and just a bit stuck when her beloved father dies unexpectedly. Furious at his partner’s plans to scatter his ashes somewhere of no emotional significance, Annie seizes the urn and, on a whim, decides to take it on a tour of the thirty-one sea areas that make up the shipping forecast, which her father loved listening to, despite living in landlocked St Albans.
Travelling around the coastline of Britain searching for the perfect place to say goodbye, she starts to wonder if it might be time to rethink some of the relationships in her life – but is it too late for second chances?
Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job. Henceforth, Death is no longer going to be the end, merely the means to an end. It’s an offer Mort can’t refuse.
As Death’s apprentice he’ll have free board, use of the company horse – and being dead isn’t compulsory. It’s a dream job – until he discovers that it can be a killer on his love life.
Young Adults and Children
The monster showed up just after midnight. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild.
Costa Award winner Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself. A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.
The death of a parent, sibling or friend is one of the most traumatic experiences for a child and it can be hard to know how to talk to them about it. In this honest, comforting and strength-building guide, children can look toward the future with hope.
The author shares case studies of children’s stories of loss. She offers comforting and practical advice for coping, remembering and taking time for you.
A beautiful and gentle look at the circle of life, using Christine Pym’s gorgeous animal characters to explore the emotions and facts around death, with questions such as Is it ok to talk about dying? What happens when someone dies? Can I shout and cry and hide away? and How can I stop feeling sad?
At the bottom of Syd’s garden, through the gate and past the tree, is Grandad’s house. Syd can let himself in any time he likes. But one day when Syd comes to call, Grandad isn’t in any of the usual places. He’s in the attic, where he ushers Syd through a door, and the two of them journey to a wild, beautiful island awash in colour where Grandad decides he will remain. So Syd hugs Grandad one last time and sets sail for home.
Visiting Grandad’s house at the bottom of the garden again, he finds it just the same as it’s always been – except that Grandad isn’t there anymore. Sure to provide comfort to young children struggling to understand loss, Benji Davies’s tale is a sensitive and beautiful reminder that our loved ones live on in our memories long after they’re gone.
This reassuring picture book explores the difficult issue of death for young children. Children’s feelings and questions about this sensitive subject are looked at in a simple but realistic way. This book helps them to understand their loss and come to terms with it.
Notes for parents and teachers at the back of the book provide valuable advice for how to share this book with your child or class.
Badger was dependable, and always ready to lend a helping paw. He was very old and wise, and knew that he would die soon.
Susan Varley wrote this book to help children overcome the death of loved ones, and it has since become a children’s classic.