By Emily Kenward our Founder and CEO
Since founding the Charity, I have had the privilege of journeying alongside people at the end of life. I have listened to the stories of people in their later years which for many includes bereavement and loss.
Since the charity started we have experienced many deaths among our membership. This is not unexpected due to the age of our members (average age 82). However during the first year of the pandemic the numbers increased from an average of 18 per year to 74 which obviously had a significant impact on our Time to Talk Befriending community. We remember our members fondly and share about their passing within our quarterly newsletters. I have also had the privilege of leading funerals for a few people I have come to know through my work as an Anna Chaplain which I consider to be an incredible privilege.
As a charity we support our volunteers by providing training and resources produced in partnership with some of our Friends of the Charity on the subject of bereavement and loss in befriending. One of our in-house chaplains, Julie, is a point of contact for scheme members and volunteers who are impacted by grief, for example when a scheme member has died or when someone is referred to our service who has recently been bereaved. In addition, we provide active signposting to our scheme members who require more specialist ongoing support for bereavement and loss referring to local and national organisations.
In 2019 we worked with specialist consultants to develop a Guided Conversation Toolkit called Preparing to Say Goodbye. The toolkit was initially created so we could support older people to begin to have difficult conversations about death and dying in a safe and supportive way. Because of the pandemic, our work on Preparing to Say Goodbye transitioned, enabling us to provide training to multi-disciplinary professional’s supporting them to use our guided conversation toolkit which has proven to increase awareness, confidence, and best practice in relation to talking about death and dying.
In January 2022 we were invited to give Oral Evidence as part of a panel of experts which contributed towards the UK Commission on Bereavement Report ‘Bereavement is Everyone’s Business’. It is clear form the report that one of our recommendations to start the conversation about death and dying earlier in the life-course, even at Primary age, was valued and identified by others who have personal and/or professional experience in this field.
Through our Ageing Journey Project we are co-producing research and resources with people of all ages including older people whose wisdom we are keen to capture and share. One of the key stages of the Ageing Journey is death itself. Something which is still taboo in our society and difficult for many to think about let alone talk about. But as the inspirational author and palliative care physician Kathryn Mannix said about the death of Queen Elizabeth II, ‘we can all learn from the death of the Queen, the world has watched her live through the process of #OrdinaryDying, and yet dying went unspoken, un-named. Let's notice what nobody mentioned: we all saw the Queen going through the stages of ordinary dying…. She has demonstrated the phases of ordinary dying to us all. How dying is mainly living, after all. And how, in the end, we can all plan ahead, address the unfinished business in our lives, and die with symptoms well-managed, even in our own bed if circumstances permit’.