"THEY make you forget you are dying," Joyce Lewin said, smiling as she sipped a cup of coffee in Sobell House's brightly-decorated day centre.

That was her answer when asked why she started coming to the Headington hospice, having been told there was likely nothing more doctors could do to treat her cancer.

The 81-year-old, who lives in Cowley, said: “I think everybody here must just be injected with some special kindness gene. I have just been bowled over by it.”


All the events you can attend during Dying Matters next week

This week the hospice is supporting the national Dying Matters campaign, which encourages people to talk about death and dying and stop treating it as a taboo subject.

Srinda Singh, who manages the bereavement service at Sobell, said: “Those conversations definitely help the person who is left behind to make decisions.

“They are overwhelmed anyway and distressed, so to be thrown into that whirlwind about ‘what did this person want?’ can cause a lot of anxiety.

“There is this fear that if we talk about death and dying, that we are hastening it somehow, that we will somehow make it happen. It’s going to happen to all of us and we somehow need to have the courage to actually talk about it and not make it a secret.”

Oxford Mail:

Srinda Singh

Mary Miller, the hospice's clinical lead, said this should not be a one-off conversation.

Dr Miller added: “This is really important to enable people to have the skills and bravery to talk about death and dying throughout their lives, so when we are faced with illness that threatens our lives, it’s not a foreign or unusual conversation.

“As a society, that’s not a skill we own at the moment. It becomes a huge pressure.

“We are saying it’s vitally important to be thinking about this before coming to the end of your life.

“I think the fact loved ones have something positive to do after the loss, to meet that person’s wishes, is incredibly helpful and meaningful.”

Oxford Mail:

Mary Miller

Tom Crook, music therapist at Sobell, said creative arts can help with expression.

He added: “Lots of people use music sessions to think about dying, through music. There are often lots of subconscious and unconscious things that come up, even if not verbally.

“A lot of people use the song-writing process to address their own mortality and think about the past. A creative outlet is often more helpful – sometimes, words aren’t enough.

“There is a great quote from Aldous Huxley about how human beings treat death as a ‘rumour’, which is true – a lot of people think ‘death happens to other people, I’ll be alright.’”


Sobell helps Oxfordshire schools to teach children about death

Oxford Mail:

Tom Crook

Sobell will spearhead Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust's events during Dying Matters week, which include setting up information stalls at its hospitals and holding speaker events open to the public.

This year the theme of Dying Matters is 'are you ready?' and asks people if they have prepared for death, such as writing a will or letting loved ones know their wishes.


Oxford bus driver to run 50 marathons for Sobell House

Natasha Wiggins, locum consultant in palliative medicine at the trust, said: “People imagine death to be terrible and dramatic, and actually, often it’s peaceful and calm and dignified.

“If you accept somebody or yourself is going to die, it’s just about seeing how we can make that the best it can be – is it having windows open and hearing the bird sing, or having Frank Sinatra playing? It’s so personal.

“People have a fixed birth plan but somehow the idea of having a death plan is something people feel really uncomfortable about.

"If we ask questions and demystify it, it’s not as scary as we think."

Oxford Mail:

Natasha Wiggins

Samantha Edwards, lead specialist palliative care nurse at Sobell, is part of a team that ensures patients receive excellent care at their homes and in Oxford’s hospitals.

She said: “Dying Matters is really relevant to us because we work more in outreach, and see a lot of other healthcare professionals who might not have as much palliative care experience.

"Sobell is more than just a physical hospice. That is our heart, but wherever you are and whatever your wishes, palliative care support is always available.

“It’s important to talk about [dying] because it gives loved ones the opportunity to discuss that with you, and when you’re very sick or lose your autonomy, the last thing you want to do is to be having those conversations at a time of stress and high emotion.”

Oxford Mail:

Samantha Edwards

Rebecca Ford, an occupational therapist in Sobell’s hospital palliative care team, is based at the John Radcliffe and helps to facilitate patients’ discharge from hospital to home.

She said: “People have different priorities – for some the thought of being at home really scares them, for others it’s really important for them to be around things they are familiar with.

“It’s important to start those conversations to make it less scary and less traumatic. If people are well-supported and have proper warning, we can make sure it’s as nice a process as possible.”

Oxford Mail:

Rebecca Ford

Victoria Bradley, palliative care speciality registrar at Sobell, stressed the importance of training healthcare professionals to encourage those conversations.

She said: “I have colleagues who may not see death and dying on a daily basis – for doctors, nurses and therapists who work in other parts of the hospital, their focus is very much on keeping people as well as possible.

Oxford Mail:

Victoria Bradley

“Knowing when to introduce concepts around mortality can be tricky – a lot of health professionals went into the work they do to try to save people, and can be conflicted by the fact that you can’t always do that.”

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