It's a busy time in the Dying Matters office, and for organisations around the country, as we're in the run up to our annual Awareness Week. Between 9th and 15th May hundreds of events will be held, to engage thousands of people in conversations around dying, death and bereavement - to have what we're calling 'The Big Conversation'.
Many of us still don't like talking about death and dying. One of the tragic consequences of this is that we fail to look out for people who are providing care when people close to them are dying, or to those who are grieving.
Of course, we don't usually neglect people in these situations as a result of bad intentions. Often it's a consequence of avoiding thinking about our mortality, or approaching this difficult topic. But the result of this is that people are left feeling isolated at the very time when they most need support.
This is why the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) has been working with several organisations around England over the past year and a half, to develop projects in their communities that will increase support for people at the end of life, their carers and bereaved people.
With support from Public Health England (PHE), we've created the Dying Well Community Charter, which sets out aspirations for compassionate communities that enable people to die well. Through the Charter, we've supported them to work with local organisations and groups within their communities to create compassionate, supportive networks surrounding people at the end of life. We've called these organisations 'Pathfinders', as they're leading the way in shaping these communities.
In Cheshire, for instance, the End of Life Partnership is working with the University of Chester's Student Union to train their staff and students in having conversations about death and dying, and providing bereavement support including peer support.
In Hackney, St. Joseph's Hospice is running its "compassionate neighbours" programme, training up volunteers from the local community who offer practical support and companionship to people with life-limiting conditions and their carers, especially from community groups who don't traditionally access hospice services due to language, culture and custom. (Keep an eye on the NCPC website for updates on the results from these projects in Summer 2016).
These Pathfinders are demonstrating that supporting people at the end of life is not just the responsibility of doctors and nurses. We can all help in some way and with more people dying in England (many of whom will need unpaid care from friends or relatives) it's becoming increasingly important that we all do what we can. This is why the national Ambitions framework for palliative and end of life care, published in September 2015, sets out as one of its six ambitions that 'each community is prepared to help'.
Providing support - whether it's for a friend, neighbour, or a member of our sports team - doesn't demand that much of us. It could be as simple as cooking an extra portion of tonight's meal to share with them, or spending 20 minutes walking their dog, to allow them time to focus on caring or grieving.
By taking time to provide support, we help people when they most need it; we can help improve the health and wellbeing of carers and bereaved people; and we can build compassionate communities which show that - in the words of the Dying Well Community Charter - caring for one another at times of crisis and loss is everybody's responsibility.