Language matters in death and dying

02 May 2024
Volume 29 · Issue 5

It has become customary now that each year the Dying Matters campaign by Hospice UK dedicate a Dying Matters awareness week in May encouraging people across the globe to talk about death and dying. People are encouraged to talk about death and dying in which ever way, form or shape they prefer as long as it works for them and their friends and families. The theme of this year's campaign is ‘The way we talk about Dying Matters’, which focuses on the language we use when we talk about or discuss the topic of death and dying. Last year the theme was ‘Dying Matters at work’ which encouraged similar conversation in the work place with managers and colleagues.

During the Dying Matters awareness week, this year from 6–12 May, people are encouraged to be creative and innovative in the way they challenge some of the often confusing terminology used around death and dying, the taboos that still surround death and dying, and come up with new ways to openly and confidently talk about death with each other including with children. During this week, we are encouraged to identify and eradicate barriers to open conversations about death and dying and I have argued elsewhere that the use of euphemisms often distorts the reality of death, as people genuinely attempt to soften the perceived harshness of death. It is sensible and logical that dropping euphemisms in our language will eventually pave the way for proper language that confronts the reality of death by saying to another that, for example, ‘Pete has died’ and not ‘passed away’. The language around death and dying is important and it needs to be clear and accurate to avoid the confusion or misunderstanding that often follows the use of euphemisms. Anyone involved in any innovative ideas or activities can contact he Dying Matters campaign and share their activities. Alternatively, people can contact the alliance at Hospice UK for support with ideas, tips, and activities that they can engage in during this week. On the Hospice UK website, the alliance states that they are helping communities around the UK to come together to talk about having those end-of-life conversations, with their healthcare professionals or families, friends and colleagues. The way we use language when caring for dying people often impacts not only their dying experience but those of the bereaved. The dying Matters Awareness week offers a week-long opportunity to share stories, experiences and challenges encountered by both healthcare professionals and people who are dying, as well as those deemed important to them. This can be a rich source of learning for us as community nurses in how we care, and further understand the sensitive topic of death and dying. As we gain more knowledge, the Dying Matters campaign believes that we can break down barriers, taboos, euphemisms and work towards a society that is better equipped to support people through this lifechanging but inevitable life experience. Death is the only certainty we have and yet, it is probably the most elusive and indiscriminate phenomenon known to man, that creates fear and anxiety in most of us.

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