Death is something that most of us naturally prefer to avoid thinking about. However, as Benjamin Franklin famously said, “nothing in life is certain except death and taxes”.
“Keeping quiet” or “putting off” talking about our wishes for end of life and death can be problematic both for us and those who care for us. Many of us have misconceptions about what might happen during end of life and death and the fact that we don’t talk about it, only exacerbates this.
Citizens Advice NI, Marie Curie and the National Association of Funeral Directors believe that a public health campaign is needed to encourage people to start talking and thinking about their wishes.
A recent report by Northern Ireland investigative publication, The Detail considers the issues around death. These include the barriers to accessing advice and information and how the repercussions of death can have surprising, significant and detrimental implications in the long-term if we don’t take steps to rectify them. It looks at a wide range of issues including the following:-
The funeral industry and how the cost of burial can vary dramatically across Northern Ireland – a “postcode lottery”. Due to the sudden and distressing nature of many deaths and the fact that we don’t often want to plan ahead, we often find ourselves paying much more than we expect for a funeral. Sadly, this can result in to debt or poverty for those who are bereaved. The report looks in detail at the cost of death across council areas in Northern Ireland and calls for a uniform price.
More assistance with Funeral Payments
Funeral payments are available to those on receipt of certain benefits and cover the cost of a simple, respectful, low cost funeral. Sarah McCully Russell from Citizens Advice NI calls for an increase to these payments and more transparency and accessible information surrounding them.
Bereavement benefits were reduced substantially in April 2017, with bereaved children being the hardest hit. Many people aren’t aware that cohabiting partners and their children are excluded from these benefits, despite societal changes and marriage being irrelevant to other benefits. A landmark case on this issue is due to be heard by the Supreme Court sitting in Belfast in April 2018.
Living with a terminal illness
In the report , one gentleman suffering from terminal cancer shares the benefits of being able to express his wishes regarding donating his body to medical science and to make a Will. This has allowed him and his family to have peace of mind knowing his affairs are in order and he believes, allowed him to carry on living. He feels that making these choices now will make it easier for his family later.
The need for care
Marie Curie UK estimates that 3,000 people are missing out on the care and emotional and physical support that they need due to a lack of awareness and a reluctance to accept death.
The full report includes an interview with Siobhan McLaughlin, the woman involved in the landmark case on Bereavement Benefits currently before the Supreme Court, and her solicitor Laura Banks of Francis Hanna & Co . Siobhan told The Detail that she took the case for her children, because they are as deserving as any other child who has lost a parent:-
“You can have two 10-year-olds going through the same thing – both have lost their dad. Yet society has said to one of them because your parents were married you deserve this, and to the other one, you don’t. It makes them feel irrelevant. I felt I had to give it a shot,”
“For us it has made everybody more aware that this is happening and how wrong it is that we have two sets of children and one of them has been stigmatised by this and an action their parents took, which they have no say over.”
Read the full report from The Detail here