Lets Talk Death: Conference … find out more

For Dying matters week 2015 The University of Bradford has chosen to coordinate a Death café and run a Conference surrounding current issue around death. Both events are predominantly organised by students within the Faculty of Health at the University. The purpose of these events is to get people thinking and talking about issues around death.

The following are abstracts from a selection of our speakers for the #letstalkdeath conference.

14:00- Let’s Talk after death too

Jan R Oyebode, Professor of Dementia Care

When someone dies we feel we have lost them; and of course, we have lost the living two-way relationship with them. However, we all know the saying: ‘Those who die live on in the hearts of those who remember them’. In this talk, I shall discuss the way we talk to and about those who have died. These forms of talk are examples of one strand of the phenomenon called ‘continuing bonds’, which describes the emotional connection we may still feel with those who have died. Talk with, and about, the dead can provide us with comfort and guidance. In this presentation I shall give examples from studies in the UK and Pakistan that show how such talk gives the person who has died a continuing influence in our lives, and brings benefit to those who are bereaved.

14:30 Groundhog grief   – Managing the Bereaved Individual Living with Dementia

Martin Neal, Lecturer and PhD student

For the individual living with dementia the condition has multiple, physical and psychological impacts. For many individuals this will include a gradual loss of a reality grounded in the present day- the here and now. Those individuals who move out of “our” reality and progress to enter a reality of the past – the then and there ; coupled with a declining or absent short term memory can find themselves in a position where they experience the bereavement for the first time in a repetitive and distressing way.

This session will aim to provide and discuss alternate strategies for managing the often challenging situation of what to say and do when some with dementia has forgotten their spouse or partner has died. The purpose being to help the person avoid the painful scenario of having to relive the news of their bereavement for the first time over and over, thereby enabling them to avoid a Groundhog Day situation from which they cannot move on or escape.

15:00- Dawn Thompson- A personal experience

15:30 Continuing Bonds: Exploring the meaning and legacy of death through past and contemporary practice

Laura Middleton-Green, Lecturer and PhD student

I will present a summary of a research project that is due to start in early 2016, led by Dr Karina Croucher from the School of Archeology in the Faculty of Life Sciences along with Professor Christina Faull from LOROS Hospice, Leicester. The aim of the study is to demonstrate tangibly how archaeology can inform our current attitudes to death and dying, and be used to explore the value of collaboration between health care professionals and archaeologists. The diverse methods of dealing with death and the dead uncovered by archaeologists will bring a different perspective to our current attitudes and therefore contribute towards a necessary re-examination of today’s taboo status of death as an inevitable human experience. Through creating a compendium of insights into death through time, particularly the fundamental resonance of bereavement, loss and commemoration, the project will shape thinking on how contemporary practice and historical perspectives can be mutually informed. I will provide some background to the study, including some preliminary exploratory work that has been carried out with post-registration nursing students, with volunteers and staff in Rotherham Hospice, and with LOROS hospice in Leicester. I will open the topic for an interactive discussion and debate with conference delegates.


We are really looking forward to the week, and to some lively and thought-provoking conversations about this important but often invisible topic.

The #letstalkdeath Team

My experience

A blog by Kate Palmer, a second year mental health nursing student

I’m asked to write a blog for Dying Matters week. I don’t really know what a blog is. ‘Just write whatever you want, whatever you’ve got to say’, I’m told.


I start to write an essay; trying to say something profound, witty, not-too-heavy, not-too-personal, nothing to cause offense. I even consider adding references from academic works. I attempt to weave together some universal experience, something I hope the reader might relate to, maybe draw from.


I write the same opening paragraph 11 times over 3 days…


I stop. I don’t know what to write about death or dying. It’s not as if I can write something new or original about the subject. I can’t order death into a neat package, made palatable with a few throw away quips to attempt to lighten the mood.


So, I get angry with it; ranting, sweary type of anger, born from frustration with the inability to put my feelings into words. Despondent, I can’t understand where my tears are coming from. I swing from self- pity to trying to ‘get a grip’ to feeling like a survivor.


So, I decide I will just tell you about my experience of death.


My Dad, Joe died in 1985 after cancer got him. I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s how it was and how it felt. He didn’t choose to go-not that I’m judging anyone that does-but he fought to stay with his wife and two kids.


He was 45 years old. I turn 45 in September. I have to sit quietly and try to let that sink in.It’s sobering in its urgency. I’m not ready to go now, just as I wasn’t ready to let him go aged 14.


Over the last 30 years I’ve tried to make sense of my Dad’s death, tried to find some meaning in my life. I’ve used death as a reason to be hedonistic, irresponsible and non-committal. I’ve given therapists a lot to listen to.


Yet, I’ve also felt that if I’m here I’m going to get engaged, care about stuff, connect with people, argue my point, love, do my best, crack on with this one life.


I accept that grief and loss are a part of life, certainly my life. Just as I accept my Dad didn’t meet his grandchildren or got old with my Mum. But it’s still sad and it still sometimes makes me angry. And that’s completely ok.


Death Cafe Bradford

A blog by –  Joanne Mullarkey, Ethical Tissue Research Nurse, University of Bradford

When you hear the words ‘Death Café’, what do you think of…?

A quaint Yorkshire teashop full of Zombies?

A serial killer’s new business venture?

In not quite such a dramatic form, the concept of a dedicated relaxed space to talk about the important matter of your demise comes for the first time to Bradford University!

Coffee, Cupcakes and CPR. What more could you want!


death cafe mug logo

Death isn’t normally something people talk about easily, comfortably or willingly, but we want to change that. Fundamentally, dying does matter, it’s your final party, your last hurrah and this signifies how you want to be remembered…

It’s important to think and plan just like you would your 21st birthday or 60th wedding anniversary. Surprise birthday parties can be fun…. But ‘surprise funerals’ don’t tend to have the same impact.

Now for some hard truths….

We are all going to die.

Everyone you can see right now will die.

That includes you.

And your loved ones.

No-one is immune. So what is wrong with planning for the inevitable?? A little bit of thought now may save a lot of time and anguish later.

So what are we doing is to give you the opportunity to talk….

This is where the tea, coffee and lots of yummy homemade cake come in!


relax im just here for the cake

There will be 4 Death Café’s during Dying Matters Awareness week. The only day when there will not be one is Wednesday, when the conference will be taking place.

Every day there will be activities and stalls which have been created to initiate conversations or trigger you to think about certain aspects of the dying process. There are activities for you to join in, view, photograph, Snapchat and Tweet about! These include Seed Bombs, a ‘Before I die….’ Wall, designing your own tombstone (and Epitaph!) and creating the perfect funeral song playlist!

Each cafe will have a loosely based theme which will be represented by stalls which will change daily.

We kick off the week on Monday 18th May with experts from the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support Service (SANDS). This day will also focus around death and loss as a young person, suicide (of all ages), miscarriage and abortion. You are free to talk to anyone volunteers and staff about any of these topics and information and support numbers will be made available.

Tuesday 19th May’s Cafe is centred on Tissue and Organ Donation for Therapeutic purposes and Medical Research. We have visitors from The NHS Blood and Transplant Team, the Lead Tissue Donation Practitioner for the North East and Ethical Tissue, The Human Tissue Bank which is based at the University of Bradford will also be there. We will be giving people information on what choices you have after death and how important it is to make them beforehand!

The Chaplain and his team from Bradford Royal Infirmary will be attending on Thursday 21st May to help with any questions and conversations around death and spirituality. There are many people around to chat to about all sides or religion and humanity and this can often help people a lot to talk to someone about any struggles they’ve had in the past with this topic. Also on this day, members of the iGene Digital Autopsy Facility in Bradford will be giving information on their sophisticated, 3D visualisation software and a scanner which is used to establish cause of death.

Friday 22nd of May is all about the legal aspects of Death and Dying. Morrish Solicitors who specialise in this type of law will be in attendance to offer support and advice for free about any issues concerning wills, inheritance, power of attorney, Living Wills etc. This will provide people with a reliable and accessible source of information.

This café is the beginning of a series of events which will get people thinking about this issue…

I can honestly say that this is a rare chance to attend something that you KNOW has something to do with you!

 skull soup

We look forward to seeing you there!



My Best Friend

by Dorcas Lambert @dorcaselambert, April 2015

I’ve tried to write this all week, but found it difficult to find the words. And I had to write it because you’re the only person I could, or would, tell. I’m not very good at talking about me – to most people anyway – but to you I could. Though I mostly didn’t have to, because you’d just know. Whatever happened, whatever was said, I never had to explain myself because you always just understood. I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve – if I’m sad or scared or annoyed or angry, I don’t usually tell people about how I feel. But you already knew. I was going to say that the one thing you didn’t know was what an enormous part of my life you were – but you did know. Of course you did.

We worked together, our kids went to the same school – same class even for a while, and we lived within staggering distance of each other’s houses. Not forgetting that you were my honorary bridesmaid and honorary godmother to my daughter – we never let small things like me not having any bridesmaids and Emma not being Christened get in the way of those. She’ll always be “your iccle Emma”. She loved you too.


 Not that we were joined at the hip, we didn’t always see each other as much as we wanted to. But you…we…were just always there. I could be silly with you, get on my soapbox with you (though you were usually on it first), have a rant with you – we did love a good rant. We did serious too…sometimes…


It’s just so bloody hard to lose your best friend. It feels like “bereavement” is something that’s reserved for direct relatives, if you know what I mean. Blood is thicker than water and all that. I feel like I’m having to make people understand that “best friend” is just as painful, if not more sometimes. It almost feels like I’m not worthy of this amount of grief, because we were “just, only friends”. No matter that you were more like my extended family than my actual extended family.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done the whole bereavement thing. You’d think it’d get easier. But my previous experiences of this horrible sadness that comes with grief have never been accompanied with this sickening feeling of loneliness and isolation that I’ve got now. And that’s because at those times before – I always had you…and now I don’t.

Northern Lights (Golden Compass) (Phillip Pullman, 1995) probably wasn’t your cup of tea, but if you read it (I know you didn’t) – cutting children from their dæmon. That’s how it feels. Like someone’s taken a great big knife and sliced a massive piece of my life off.

When I stay up till silly o’clock in the morning, there’s no Facebook messenger conversations anymore, because you were the only other person in the world to be daft enough to still be up. I miss those conversations terribly. I still wait for your comments on my Facebook statuses. No more calling in for coffee when I drive past your house, and I drive past it a lot. You were the first person I thought of to tell all my things to – even the silliest, most trivial things – because I couldn’t help but smile knowing what your reaction would be – good or bad. There’s no-one to tell those things to now. I told you more than I tell my husband. When I graduate, I’ll be sad because you’re not there getting all soppy and pathetic….for all of a minute before we start throwing sarcastic insults at each other. When I finally move house, I’ll have to get excited about obsessive colour co-ordination and accessories and soft furnishings all on my own…

…but that’s me being selfish. That’s me being sad for me. Which doesn’t compare with how sad I am for you. It seems so cruel that someone who loved life as much as you should die so soon. I’ve cried so much for you, for the future you wanted but couldn’t have. I think of how tired you were, and how much it hurt you to live with the knowledge you were having to leave your children before you’d finished helping them grow up. I know how much pain it caused you – I felt it. And I honestly don’t think you’d have made it as long as you did if it weren’t for your love for them. You had so much love for all your family and they did for you too. In a way that made even harder to bear. I can’t begin to imagine what they’re going through right now.

Now I hug my children that little bit tighter because you remind me just how lucky we are to be together. In fact you’ve taught me a lot. From now on, when I moan that life’s too hard – I’ll think of you and be grateful for everything I have. When I think I’m struggling, I’ll think of you and I’ll know that it’s nothing compared to what you did – and you did it all with a smile. I’m so very proud of you.

Also from now on, I will put extra tinsel on my Christmas tree and I will always chop carrots into round, circular slices. Because I know how much you hated those things. Hehehe. (I can hear you giggling at the very notion of me actually preparing fresh vegetables.) Every Christmas Eve (work permitting) I will still go shopping at 6am in a silly hat and then go forcoffee at McDonalds after and I’ll drink a toast to you…


I could write more, I could write forever, about you and how wonderful I think you were/are/whatever. But you already knew that, right?

If I could send you a Facebook message right now, I’d say:

Need to clean this bloody house – I seem to keep getting dust in my eyes or something. Cos I’m absolutely, definitely NOT crying.

Love you Lady D Xxx

And you’d say:

Love you too Dotty Xxx

Thank fook for facebook cos I’d never be able to tell you to your face :’) <3<3<3

And I’d say:

I know :’)

Time ….


(A brief blog by University of Bradford student nurse Ben McKay @BenMcKay89)

We have all heard the saying “time is a great healer”. And for me this is especially prudent at the moment as next week will be the 10 year anniversary of my friend’s death. But what if I don’t want to be “healed”. What if “healed” means that I forget the memories that we had together?


I can recall the exact moment that I found out she had died… I was sat in a class and a message came through asking the whole of our form to be excused and meet in our tutor room. As we collected in the room we all knew what was going to be said but equally didn’t want it confirming. Unfortunately at the age of 15 my friend’s battle with leukaemia had ended and she had died. As I sat there staring into nothingness with an overwhelming sense of sadness I had the realisation that we were not going to do the things that friend did anymore, camping in the garden or playing by the lake. My thoughts continued and I couldn’t help but think that we wouldn’t grow up together; have our first (legal) drink together, turn 21 or graduate. As a small amount of time passed I thought of all the great memories we had made, time we had spent together, stupid and utterly ridiculous thing we had done and thought were the best idea ever! It is now I sit here at 25 and ponder these thoughts, I have a growing concern that time will heal me and I will forget.


I have had the above part of this blog post for a month now. I am unsure why but I seem to be unable to finish. My intention was to talk though the continuing relationship my friend and I have, and how letting go of the memories of our relationship would not be the best thing for me….. I just don’t know how to say it. So for now this post shall remain unfinished……


Death: a personal view

There are so many deaths that I have encountered and they have all had a different impact on me. Such as the death of my biological father, my granddad and my great auntie all happened when I was very young. Although they are sad and final, they are not ones that still bring me to tears. They do not give me a sense of heaviness in my stomach nor do they leave me feeling a piece of my jigsaw is missing. Reflecting back I think the reason being that these happened when I was young and my parents sheltered me to some degree. Those deaths that have had a bigger impact on me, are those of people who have been in my life much longer. Perhaps this is due to me having more memories of them and more experiences that include these people.


The death of my biological mum four years ago is still extremely raw and upsetting for me. Her death was sudden and although she ‘let’ my parents adopt me, she was still a large influence on my life. I saw her on a regular basis and the dynamics of the adoption meant she was a part of my family. I found breaking the news to my children that their ‘Auntie’ was dead difficult and one I hope I do not have to repeat while they are still young. My eldest child was 12 years old she seemed to understood better. I encouraged her to attend the funeral, and she tells me this helped her to understand that she wouldn’t see her ‘Auntie’ again. My other children still ask questions and I find that I keep repeating myself. I am very matter of fact with them and in return they are very curious but yet accepting of the situation. As a parent you want to do what is best for your children, but how can anyone know what is best when discussing death? I personally feel that due to the suddenness of her death, I still have many questions unanswered and I have had to come to terms with this. It has taken time and has included emotions ranging from anger to sadness but I now feel acceptance.

The death of my closest childhood friend is one that leaves me physically drained, it is still so emotional and I am still utterly devastated. I had been really ill just before and I had nearly died myself so when she died I felt very lucky to be alive. Emma was one on her own and to me she was my friend who I saw as funny, inspirational, colourful, outrageous, and yet she was sensitive and caring. My childhood was amazing and all those mischievous things children get up, I got up to with Emma. Due to the circumstances surrounding her death, Emma chose when she died and she controlled her departure. The void she has left is one that she had not realised she filled, she hadn’t realised that she brought such happiness and love to those who knew her. I sit here writing about someone who I miss dearly, and today would have been her 35th birthday. I feel a lot of guilt and despair that I was too ill and unable to help the pain she felt. This does not alter when people say that she is in a better place and at peace, all I know is that she is gone and I miss her.

Those that I have lost to terminal illness, I feel I have handled their deaths much better. The time that they had to ‘prepare’ for death not only helped them accept that they would die, but it has helped their relatives and friends. We were able to visit and discuss an array of subjects, such as funerals and the good old times. It did not seem fair to see them in such distressing circumstances, discussing their death with them felt strange yet it was not an unpleasant experience. I found it very emotional at the time but I can look back and recall acceptance. As a family we have continued their legacy by raising money for charities that were involved in their deaths. Although death is final, we find talking very openly about their life and deaths, helps everyone come to terms with their feelings and allows people the freedom to laugh or cry when they feel they need to.

Through the tears that are falling and the heaviness I feel from writing about the deaths of people close to me I ask you this: People say death is a taboo subject, is it the feelings that people have surrounding death that are actually taboo?

 live well

Kim Selby, 1st year student nurse  – 5th March 2015

Follow me on @selbyfamily

For tweets on the work of the “Let’s Talk Death” group, follow @LetsTalkDeath

How do you plan for the inevitable?

How do you plan for the inevitable?

It was the 24th November 2014, I was 7 hours into a 13 hour shift on placement and I received the worst news I could ever have imagined. My 25 year old friend whom I had only seen the previous evening had died in her sleep. Many thoughts raced through my mind as I struggled to work the rest of my shift and then I returned home to find that I could not even bring myself to go see her partner and two young sons. I felt bad that I had not been there and that I had continued to work my shift after hearing the news, this was because I was informed that I was already behind with my placement hours. When I finally managed to go to see my friend’s partner I found him worrying about financial matters and realised that there had been no plans in place for something like this happening. Who wants to think about their own death at 25 years old?


It made me start to think that death is such a taboo subject, not to be mentioned unless someone has actually died and that it is mainly older generations that have plans in place for when it happens. People find it difficult to even bring themselves to speak about death and find that they automatically change the subject when it is mentioned. There needs to be more openness when it comes to death and dying as so many people die without having any sort of plan in place, this leaves loved ones not knowing where to start financially or otherwise. Thinking about this made me realise that I did not have a will or any sort of life assurance in place and that if anything were to happen to me, my family would go through the same financial difficulties as my friend’s partner. It was an extremely difficult time for him as he tried to sort out the household bills, debts and benefits. On top of all this there was a funeral to plan and pay for. Where do you start in this situation? We are very lucky to live in such a lovely community and everyone rallied around him offering as much help as they could. He also did amazingly well at managing to organise everything as quickly as he could so that he could concentrate on looking after his sons. It made me think, would my partner would have coped so well?


I have now started to plan for the inevitable myself and have a policy in place that will pay for my funeral costs and any debts I owe. It is not a nice thing to have to think about but what happened to my friend made me realise that we can all die at any time and even being young does not make us invincible. My partner is aware of my wishes for when I die especially for my funeral as the thought of being buried makes my skin crawl! We have also talked through what would need sorting out financially and how to do this. I now want to raise awareness amongst young people about the importance of putting plans into place for when they die. I also want to encourage people to be more open about death and not treat it like a subject that needs to be changed as soon as possible when it comes into conversation. People should be able to talk openly about their experiences without wondering what other people think about it. I have found as a student nurse that even professionals find it a difficult subject and I have seen some badly managed situations in practice as a result. I understand that thinking about death is frightening but not informing someone properly is even more frightening, I have found most of the time that people just want you to be honest with them. Supporting people at this time in their lives has been so much easier when they understand what is going on and what to expect. This is why, when the opportunity came up to be involved in having a death cafe and conference for dying awareness week I volunteered immediately.


Blog by Fallon Scaife – follow her on Twitter – @mrsscaife

Follow our group @LetsTalkDeath

It happens to us all …

Death. The only inevitable event that we cannot hope to evade, yet we avoid talking about it at all costs. In fact, I’ve been sat staring at an empty screen for ages trying to think of what to write. I have no idea where to start. It’s definitely a difficult subject. And I suppose that’s what “Let’s Talk Death” is all about.

I didn’t really have a lot of experience of death when I was growing up, aside from the odd pet goldfish or hamster. Any deaths within the family or of family friends were fairly shielded from me. I knew about them of course, but I didn’t attend a funeral until I was in my twenties. For me, death was going to sleep and never waking up and going to live in heaven with God (“heaven” being some form of cloud-based accommodation and “God” being a bloke that looked remarkably like Father Christmas but in white robes). At least that’s how I thought of it. Didn’t sound too bad really.

Not until my teenage years did I realise what death really was – the finality of it and the emotional impact on loved ones. That moment when you realise you are mortal is a pretty scary one and I, like many others I imagine, don’t really dwell on the subject. I have thought about it occasionally, usually when I’ve been bereaved or heard about the death of someone I know, but I don’t think about it often and I talk about it even less.

I’ve probably talked about death more since becoming a student nurse. As an adult nursing student, I have (and will) encounter death in the course of my work. We have various sessions on end of life care and we do talk about death in a professional sense. How do we support people who are dying? How do we support families and carers? How do you talk to someone that has just been told they have months/weeks/days to live? What do you say to a family member whose loved one has just died? Hard, difficult, emotional conversations. I do think that the more we’ve talked about it in uni, the less uncomfortable I’ve felt about having those conversations at home. However, that’s not to say my family and friends are quite so keen.

There’s many good reasons to talk about death. It happens to us all – not talking about it won’t change that fact. Being clear about what you want for your own death, is important for the people in your life who will need to put your wishes into action when the time comes. Just talking about death can help us understand it a bit more and the more we understand something, the less scary it is. People worry about having those “difficult conversations” with family, friends, or as part of their work. But those difficult conversations might not be quite so difficult if they weren’t so alien to us. The more we talk about death, the more familiar we will be with it. The less those words will sound so insensitive and brutal, and it will become more “normal” – because death is very normal. There’s nothing strange or new about it.

Talking about death is such a social no-no that it’s very hard to initiate a conversation. It’s just not the “done thing”, is it? How do you start talking about death without people thinking you’ve gone a bit weird, or worrying that you’re suicidal? I think that’s why I like the death café idea so much. You can just turn up – you don’t need to know anything, plan anything, or even think about it before you get there. There’ll just be other people you can talk to, share your experiences and ideas, discuss about your fears, or just listen to what others have to say. A cup of tea, a piece of cake and a friendly chat…about death. What could be nicer than that?


The “Let’s Talk Death” initiative at the University of Bradford includes a week-long death café during Dying Matters Awareness Week 18th-23rd May 2015. Hosted and organised by lecturers and students, the aim is to provide a safe, informal space for anyone to come and have a chat about any aspect of death. We hope that by doing this we will help to reduce the anxieties that people have about dying and bereavement, and make those “difficult conversations” a little less difficult for all.
This collaborative blog will share the thoughts and experiences of staff and students on the subject of death in both personal and professional capacities.

Follow us on Twitter @LetsTalkDeath and join in the conversation using #LetsTalkDeath.

POSTED BY  @Dorcaselambert 26th January 2015

Time to talk

This is a collaborative blogging site for staff and students at the University of Bradford.  We have established it in the run-up to “Dying Matters” Awareness Week (18th-22nd May 2015), during which time we will be coordinating a range of activities around the University campus.

The aim of these activities is to

  • raise awareness of death, dying and grief
  • increase people’s ability to talk about death, tackling stigma and taboo
  • provide information and support to people around preparing for death

Watch this space