Compassionate Communities - Coffee and death? Learning to talk about the end of life

In his monthly column, Dr Joe Sawyer, an Academic Clinical Fellow in Palliative Care, provides an update on the fantastic Compassionate Communities’ activities taking place in East Suffolk. 

Last month I wrote of the importance our local community has in shaping how people experience serious illness, dying and loss. I wrote of the value held in the small, simple acts of kindness that, for many people, matter more than anything else.

Compassionate Communities understand the importance of these interactions and work hard to support them. Yet, at the same time, it can be difficult knowing what to say or do when we meet someone with a life-limiting illness, or someone affected by the death of somebody close.

People often tell me they are afraid of saying the ‘wrong thing’. At the same time, when support is offered, it is often our instinct to show resilience by saying ‘thank you, but I’m fine’. However hard and long we search, we will not find a person untouched by the pain of loss. Rather than sharing our experiences, we are often expected to cope with this pain by ourselves. It does not need to be this way.

The purpose in talking about death is not to help cure grief. No-one ever recovers from grief. We do not forget and we do not simply ‘move on’. There is a corner in our hearts that will forever be faithful to all that we loved, nothing can fill this gap and perhaps nothing should. This way, the bond formed with a person now gone is preserved forever and part of who we are.

In reaching out and talking, we are instead honouring the gap that death leaves. By acknowledging someone has died, we can break down the fear and isolation associated with death in the hope that with time it might be experienced in a way where the pain is less raw, and the legacy left will blossom into something new.

Simple conversation, and the human relationships this creates, is a powerful way to achieving this. St Elizabeth Hospice is currently running a free awareness training session that is aimed at helping people build the skills and confidence to enable open, honest, and sensitive conversations around dying, loss and bereavement. To book onto a session and help build your confidence in talking about death and dying please visit

Alternatively come to a local café for coffee, cake and a chat about all thing’s death. The next Death Cafés are; 6th Sept – Cult Café Ipswich, 22nd Sept – Cuppa, Felixstowe and 26th Sept – Brewers Arms, Ipswich.  All running from 10am-12noon.

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