More than half (56%) of surveyed adults in the UK haven’t spoken to family members or friends about what their wishes would be if they became severely ill or died because of COVID-19, and don’t intend to. Moreover, fewer than a quarter (23%) have actually had this conversation already. That’s according to new polling from the older people’s charity, Independent Age.

Surveying 2000 people aged 16 and over in the UK ahead of Dying Matters Awareness Week, the charity found that Brits are still unable to talk about death with their loved ones, with just under one in three (31%) saying that talking about death is always difficult, no matter the circumstances. More than one in 13 (8%) think that it has become even more difficult to talk about death in the context of coronavirus. (COVID-19).

The most common reason given to not talk about death with family members or friends was not wanting to upset them (22%). Respondents aged 65 and over, however, were the most likely to say that nothing would stop them talking about death, with almost half (46%) agreeing.

With the number of people in the UK who have lost their lives to COVID-19 continuing to rise, Independent Age believes it’s more important than ever that we speak to our friends and family about what we would want to happen if we became very ill or even died.

Corinne Sweet, psychologist, psychotherapist, author and broadcaster, commented, “Very few people find talking about death with their nearest and dearest easy, because it raises awkward or difficult emotions such as fear, anxiety and grief. They may feel a ’taboo’ about mentioning death, as if it might make it happen somehow. Or fear their loved ones are wanting to get rid of them. People can also feel embarrassed or frightened about bringing up death with loved ones as they fear upsetting them, but the pandemic has made it even more essential for us to discuss it, no matter how difficult it feels.

“Obviously, the future is unknown right now. We can hope for the best, but discussing the worst ahead of time is a good idea. You can share and process feelings together, and make practical plans. This is especially important in lockdown, where a funeral may have to be ‘virtual’. Putting peoples’ minds at rest about death can make things easier in the long run.”

Deborah Alsina MBE, Chief Executive of Independent Age, added, “The lockdown period has been difficult for all of us, but for those who have suffered a bereavement, it will have been even harder. Funeral plans may have had to change because of new restrictions, and it can be a lot harder to grieve when you’re not able to be with the rest of your family.

“Although coping with death and bereavement will always be difficult, no matter what, it can sometimes be made a little bit easier if we know what our loved one would have wanted, which can only be assured if we speak to each other.”

The charity has created a range of materials to help support older people and their families throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including starting difficult conversations and coping with bereavement. Independent Age’s advice relating to coronavirus can be viewed at independentage.org/covid-safe-and-well

Independent Age is also working with Grief Chat to provide emotional support for bereaved people, access to trained bereavement counsellors and referral into other specialist bereavement services. Further information is available at independentage.org/information/personal-life/grief-chat

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