Raising Awareness and Discussing Death

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Via the blog, our team covers a range of topics, and this week, Becky shares her thoughts on some recent publicity around the […]

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Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. Via the blog, our team covers a range of topics, and this week, Becky shares her thoughts on some recent publicity around the process of dying…

Several years ago, I reviewed Dr Kathryn Mannix’s book, ‘With the End in Mind’. Since then, her career as a speaker and advocate has successfully continued. Dr Mannix has been a regular among many media outlets, further educating members of the public on what she likes to refer to as ‘normal dying’.

October 2023 was no exception, as she partnered with Theos Think Tank to produce a new short animation about the process of dying. She was interviewed by BBC Woman’s Hour regarding the video, and I found her comments during the episode as well as the video itself really interesting.

Interviewed by Woman’s Hour host, Emma Barnett, Dr Mannix had several powerful things to share regarding the process of dying. She stated that one of the reasons to have a conversation about what dying looks like, is to help those who haven’t yet done so prepare for the eventuality. For those who have witnessed such a death, it explains what they saw.

Dr Mannix also uses the term ‘ordinary dying’, and describes this as the process of our body gradually shutting down. She points out that many people are aware that there are recognisable stages, phases and patters to the process of giving birth, but far fewer of us understand that the same thing applies to death. I had heard her speak on this previously, but it was worth being reminded that this is true – I’ve already been able to pass this knowledge on to others who have found it useful.

Something that I hadn’t previously known, and which I found very interesting, was that Dr Mannix explained that people at the end of their lives often feel a lack of hunger. She continued to point out that they’re not dying because they’re not eating, but that they’re not eating because their body is dying, and no longer wishes to have the nourishment gained from food. This isn’t a conscious decision – most people are not choosing to go without food in order to assist their death – but a biological process. This helped my understanding of the process of dying.

Towards the end of the segment, Dr Mannix reiterated that panic is contagious, but so is calmness – her request here was that people inform themselves of what they are likely to witness and experience, in order to help each other remain calm in the face of change.

I then watched the video itself, and enjoyed the content. It goes into further detail on the difference between unconsciousness and sleep – how we don’t perceive this as a feeling, and many of us also don’t discern the difference when observing it happen to others. It was good to learn that those who are dying tend to experience intermittent bouts of unconsciousness, rather than falling asleep as we think that they have. For me, it was another important distinction to be made in terms of communicating with others – there’s a historical habit of explaining death to children by saying that someone has just gone to sleep forever, and this can make children confused and fear sleeping. To have this new understanding and vocabulary is powerful and useful.

Within the video, Dr Mannix states that she has never spoken to someone who has regretted having a conversation about dying, though the opposite is often true. Much of the video reminds me of Charlie Macksey’s ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ in terms of the illustration style, and I found that comforting.

I’m pleased that Dr Mannix continues her work of encouraging people to discuss death and dying – the more of us who are aware of what it is really like, the better educated and prepared we can be.

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

January 3, 2024

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