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A Conversation Starter around Death and Dying

The Cicely Saunders Institute held an exciting new ‘Conversation Starter’ event around the often taboo subject of death as part of Dying Matters Week 2017. Over 100 people, including members of the public, patients, carers and healthcare professionals, came together for a screening of the film ‘Two Weeks’, followed by an expert panel discussion during which attendees could share their reflections on death and dying.

With an aging population, open conversations about dying are increasingly important. Supported by the King’s College London and Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Grant schemes, the Patient and Public Involvement team at the Cicely Saunders Institute organised an exciting evening of film and challenging discussion. This event intended to provide space for and promote discussions about palliative and end-of-life care, and associated research - and did so with great success.

 death speech bubble

The film was introduced by Baroness Julia Neuberger: rabbi, cross-bench peer, former chief executive of the King’s Fund, writer and broadcaster. Written and directed by Steve Stockman, ‘Two Weeks’ is a bitter-sweet comedy which follows a family's day to day struggle to accept their mother's advancing illness, intercut with the mother’s own reflections on her life and her family. Starring two-time Academy Award winner Sally Field, it has been described as “touching,” “truthful” and “surprisingly funny” - and the audience certainly reacted with both laughter and tears.

The evening then continued with an expert panel discussion, chaired by Kate Heaps (Chief Executive of Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice). The panel included people with a variety of experience relevant to palliative care, research and the arts; Lucinda Jarrett (Artistic Director of Rosetta Life), Sanjay Chadha (a person living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), with 20 years’ experience of public engagement and campaigning), and Dr Katherine Sleeman (Consultant in Palliative Medicine at King’s College Hospital and NIHR Clinician Scientist at King’s College London). 

The panel and the audience reflected on the challenges around family dynamics at the end of life highlighted by the film, and the role of palliative care professionals in providing a facilitative role. The psychological and social challenges of end of life care that were pictured in ‘Two Weeks’, resonated particularly with attendees, and there was also a focus on symptom control and spiritual wellbeing: very fitting given the holistic approach of palliative care. Audience members reflected on their personal experiences of the deaths of loved ones and voiced fears about confronting their own death in the future.  

If you would like to find out more, please contact the team at csi.ppi@kcl.ac.uk.

To hear about future events, follow us on @CSI_KCL and check out the events page on our website.