The Art of Dying – A Personal Perspective

The Art of Dying – A Personal Perspective

– A blog in support of Dying Matters Awareness Week (8th-14th May) –

Zoe Ashton is a facilitator for NIHR CLAHRC Greater Manchester’s End-of-Life Programme, here she talks about her experience in that role, her work in supporting Dying Matters Awareness Week and how it’s helped her to reflect on her own dying wishes.

As I’ve been working on a project around supporting carers of patients at end-of-life, I have found that, when talking to my family and friends about what I do for work, there have been a variety of responses. Some of my friends – especially those who work in Health or Care – are very matter of fact and open about discussing dying, whereas many of my family shy away from the subject or show sympathy that I have to deal with an upsetting topic. Some colleagues have mentioned that they consciously detach themselves from emotion to allow them to carry out research in this area; however, I have found that working on this project has prompted me to think about my own wishes for when I die and to realise I have not spoken to family about this up to now.

According to Dying Matters, a survey found that just 30% of people had let someone know their funeral wishes, and just 25% had asked a family member about their own end-of-life wishes. Research priority setting work carried out by NIHR CLAHRC GM, has shown that both healthcare professionals and carers identified planning end-of-life care in advance as one of the three top shared priority areas for end-of-life research in Greater Manchester.

This week is Dying Matters Awareness Week (8th-14th May), it promotes open discussion about dying, helping people to let loved ones know what they would like to happen when they die. This year the theme is “what can you do?” and Dying Matters is encouraging people to think about what they can do for themselves, their family and friends and in their community.

Each year, health and care services around Greater Manchester support Dying Matters Awareness Week in a variety of ways, and this year they have united in delivering one key campaign.  Over the course of the last few months, Greater Manchester and Eastern Cheshire Strategic Clinical Network has worked in partnership with 13 Clinical Commissioning Groups across the region to support local art exhibitions held on the theme of ‘Dying Matters’ in hospitals, hospices and community spaces, right across the region. All submitted artwork was photographed and made available to the public to view and vote for via the campaign’s dedicated website, where they cast in excess of 16,000 votes.

Having attended one of the local art exhibitions, I came away feeling emotional but also very positive. The art on display was full of memories of loved ones; there were a variety of pieces, some of which were a celebration of life and hope for the future rather than focussed on sadness, and some beautifully encompassed both. Art allows people to express themselves in a way that may be difficult to put into words, and can prompt us to think, and hopefully talk more about dying and what we would want for our own death.

This extensive collaborative initiative has culminated in a fantastic celebration event taking place today (Thursday 11th May, 10am- 9pm).  ‘The Art of Dying’ is being held at Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery where the artwork with the most votes is on display, and performances, workshops and activities are being held throughout the day – all to help raise awareness and encourage communities to talk about death, dying and bereavement – it’s certainly helped me to do that.

Free postcards of the exhibited artwork, sponsored by NIHR CLAHRC GM, are available at the event and can be viewed here

Zoe Ashton is attending today’s ‘Dying Matters – The Art of Dying’ event where she will be hosting a stand with NIHR CLAHRC GM colleagues to showcase our end-of-life research, including recent Dimbleby and priority setting work.