This week is Dying Matters Week. Were all encouraged to talk about Death Dying and Bereavement in the hope of breaking down this taboo and possibly living life more fully. These are my reflections form my context working with the Muslim Burial Council of Leicestershire.
MBCOL operates as a registered charity giving services to all communities in respect of “out of hours funerals” and also provide support in relation to matters related to death and bereavement. We have been involved in this sector for more than two decades. Our service is available to all service users irrespective of their religious beliefs, colour, creed, background and also those people of no faith.
What we say is based on our own knowledge and experience and we have not looked at any statistical data as such. This is very much anecdotal in terms of what we consider appropriate in relation to the issues of dying.
In our experience, the vast majority of people don’t even give this a second thought. It is almost akin to those people that put off preparing their Will in order to put their arrangements in order before they pass away. We think that it is a universal truth that people will often avoid talking about death and dying simply because deep down there is some discomfort about the fact that we are all mortal beings inhabiting this planet.
In terms of death and what it brings, some people will rely on their faith and religious philosophy whilst others may choose to develop their own ideas and thoughts.
We do however; get approaches from family members who are very concerned about a loved one who is receiving end-of-life care. This is the only instance that we know of where families actually focus their minds on the practical arrangements for the demise of a loved one and what it is that they would like to be put in place. So to deal with the overall question of are “we in a good place to die”. Our experience is that this planning and thought only becomes action in situations where someone is receiving critical care or end-of-life care.
From the community perspective, we have seen some interesting variations in what arrangements people make before someone in their family dies. Some people it’s making arrangements in relation to religious rituals and to get their religious leaders or faith practitioners being involved in preparing for the fateful day and time. Others who are not from a particularly strong faith background tend to make arrangements in relation to gathering together their friends and loved ones to mark the occasion in their own unique way. We as a charity have hosted such events at our head office in order to support those through the bereavement process.
We as an organisation believe that this topic needs to be placed in the public domain more often and we need to raise the consciousness of our communities on addressing their minds in dealing with and making arrangements for our departure from the world. After all, this is probably the last and final act that we commit to before our demise from the mortal world and therefore it is incredibly important. We should attach substantial importance to this and encourage more people to talk about dying and bereavement in order to overcome the stigma and taboo that is often associated with this. Of course there are also some challenging circumstances that can exist when somebody dies, by way of example if somebody dies in very traumatic circumstances such as a car accident or a suicide.
What we do know is that death comes to us in various ways, under various methods and at various times. We as a nation have recently learned the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh who was married to our Queen for over 70 years and he had a long life when compared to perhaps those people we read about in the newspapers who die at a very young age. We had noticed that there was a lot of empathy in our communities for our Queen and people, on the whole, were able to understand the loss that she has had to bear.
Apart from the processes that we have spoken about earlier we also then turn our attention to recent deaths as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We have witnessed some horrific scenes in India, which sadly has been overwhelmed by the pandemic. The arrangements for the dead are swift short and very impersonal. Some of the interviews we have seen from relatives resonate that they really have had no opportunity to say goodbye in their own particular way. Obviously, personally I feel an affinity with India, as this is the heritage that I come from and a country I love. These matters also affect other countries around the globe, we have seen the difficulties in some South American countries and also during the early pandemic the trauma and suffering that Italy had endured together with other European countries. These events serve as a reminder that human beings are fragile and susceptible to the forces of nature. When I make reference to nature, I recall the tsunami disaster that hit the eastern Pacific region. In these circumstances the choices we make are taken away from us. Certainly, the people of Leicester were very moved by the natural disaster which resulted in substantial sums of money being raised in charitable giving for that part of the world in a very short period of time.
In respect to the charitable giving that I have mentioned, the work that hospices do up and down the country is incredibly relevant and very important in our lives. In particular the amazing work that Rainbows Children’s and Young Persons Hospice do is very challenging and they still are able to bring some comfort and ease to families affected by children and young people who are life limited or are seriously ill. I am personally aware of the outstanding work that they do as my nephew Adam is a service user and the support my brother and his wife get is exceptionally beneficial. Additionally, I also know of a good friend, Faizal whose daughter, Aliyah, received care at rainbows during the last days of her life before she sadly passed away from Cancer. Hospice’s that operate and give the service that they do is something that we could never adequately thank them for. What we can do however is to donate much needed funds to the work that they do and I would thoroughly encourage all of you to make donations to rainbows and indeed other similar organisations. In the main they received no public funding and deliver the service entirely from charitable fundraising.
We can only but imagine what the frontline staff and volunteers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis when discussing issues of their service users within the context of their life limiting illness or disease. The conversations to be had about what arrangements need to be made must be extremely difficult and those that do it deserve our praise and we should commend them for taking the role of such incredible supportive work.
Having said that, if you are reading this and you would like to contribute in some way that I am sure that any financial contribution you can make to their work, no matter how small, would be greatly appreciated. The sad truth is that hospices of this kind of and down the country do not receive any substantial public funding and have to self-fund through charitable giving and fundraising. Please support organisations like this and indeed encourage all others around you to support them also.
We would suggest that the affinity that we have as human beings should not be lost and perhaps one of the ways to strengthen that connection is to consider the issues that connects us all and that issue is dying.
Disease of this kind and of this magnitude really does hit home to us that only about our fragile mortality but our apparent choice to be ignorant about the arrangements we need to take about our own dying. After all, we feel that if we engaged with this topic in a more meaningful way then the bereavement would not hurt so much. We would emotionally and psychologically prepare for the time when we have to say goodbye and in the manner and the method by which you we choose to say goodbye to those that we love and hold dear.
Speaking at the Royal Society of Medicine London on “End of Life”
Suleman Nagdi MBE DL