10 October 2023

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The struggle to talk about death, dying, loss & healthcare

Black History Month - Coming from a Black British Caribbean household, my family believes it is important to live life to the fullest, and that death is a normal part of life and we should embrace that we won’t be around forever.

I am quite new to St Christopher’s Hospice, and have only been working here for a few months. Before joining the team, I had always suffered anxiety around death, dying and loss – so I was quite worried about working in a hospice.

Like many, I also believed the myth that a hospice is a place where people go to die. However, within my short time here, I truly understand the value a hospice brings to the community.

Coming from a Black British Caribbean household, my family believes it is important to live life to the fullest, and that death is a normal part of life and we should embrace that we won’t be around forever.

At the age of 10, my grandmother died, and it was a devastating loss to myself, and my family. My grandmother was loved and adored by all. She was completely fit, fairly healthy and very outgoing, so it came as a complete shock to us when she passed suddenly.

Trying to understand death at any age, can be challenging, but can be a particularly difficult concept for children. Since then, I have sadly lost quite a lot of family members, and all of them were sudden. It has been a difficult few years, but I am grateful to have such a supportive network of family, friends and neighbours.

Within my family, and in many Black Caribbean households, we host a community wide nine-night when someone dies. A nine-night has similar principles to a Christian wake, where family, friends, fellow church goers, neighbours, extended family and so on come together as one big community, to celebrate the life the person that died. I didn’t understand the importance of a nine-night, but as I have gotten older, I truly appreciate the community coming together, laughing, crying, and sharing memories over music, food and occasionally dancing. Nine-nights are often a time for celebrating the life lived, rather than the life lost.

Speaking about death can be extremely triggering and, in some cases, traumatic. It can often feel isolating, and a lonely experience. It can be difficult, but speaking about death and dying is an important conversation to have. You may need to find out if there is a will in place, specific funeral plans and arrangement, and it can also help with the grieving process too.

I think it’s important to recognise that Black communities are not a monolith, we have many differing cultures, communities, and practices. It is also important to reflect on some of historical and, current medical practices that are extremely harmful to Black people today, and why there are often some anxieties discussing death, dying and loss within the Black community.

Racism is still rife today, and can also be found in places where all should be treated equitably, even in healthcare. For many years, there have been myths & stigmas about Black people; from having a stronger pain threshold, to medical practitioners denying pain medication, or refusing to investigate symptoms even further. It is only recently within the last few years that when searching online regarding dermatological ailments, we can now see examples of skin conditions on darker skin, which could be life-saving.

Systemic racism includes discrimination in healthcare, leaving many Black patients to feel they cannot rely on healthcare services. It is important that we continually bring race equity into conversations around healthcare, and understand the importance of having visibility, representation and an inclusive workforce. To address these societal challenges, we need to first have open conversations about the disparities in healthcare.

St Christopher’s Hospice has been working with a wide range of community groups to ensure that we normalise and encourage speaking about death, dying and loss. By bringing the very community members into the conversations, we can be led by experience and ensure our communities have a voice that is heard.

For more information about the topics discussed please read the following links:

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