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Demystifying Death Award Winners Revealed

The winners of the Demystifying Death Awards 2023 have been revealed.

Actor Greg Wise and author Kathryn Mannix are among those to receive one of the awards, which celebrate pioneering work to increase understanding of death, dying and bereavement.

The Awards are run by Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief, a charity-led collaboration of people and organisations that want Scotland to be a place where people can be open about and plan for death, dying and bereavement.

Sense & Sensibility star Greg Wise appeared on Strictly Come Dancing in 2021, where he dedicated a dance to his sister, whom he cared for when she was dying. He has talked openly about some of the privileges and difficulties faced by informal carers and by people living with and dying from incurable illness.

He said:

“I feel deeply privileged to have been given this award. This sits alongside the privilege of having been able to care for my sister until her death.

“I did Strictly Come Dancing for my sister - who was an enormous fan of a good dance. I did it to make her happy and to be able to share her and my story: bringing the “D Word” to a live Saturday evening sequinned dance extravaganza.

““It is an Act of Love to talk with your loved ones about grief and death. It’s Cruel (to yourself mainly) not to talk. I know I am kinder, more compassionate, more able, more grateful, more loving for having been a carer for my dying sister, and hopefully all these things now sit within me and guide me in my conversations.”

Alongside public figures like Greg Wise, the Demystifying Death Awards aim to bring recognition those working behind the scenes, often in the NHS, social care and charities.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde won the Promoting Planning Award for their work to promote the importance of planning ahead for ill health and death. Jenny Watt, Macmillan Anticipatory Care Manager at NHS GGC, said:

“Death is the only guarantee in life, but it is a topic often brushed under the carpet. This results in people feeling isolated and uncertain when they are faced with the reality of dying and the aftermath of someone’s death. People have no knowledge and are often left scrabbling around trying to navigate complex systems at a time which is already painful and distressing without this added burden. We hope that by helping to shine a light on some of the information, demystify the systems, and show that there is a whole community waiting with open arms to support people in their time of need, we can create a more caring and kinder world.”

The first government agency to pick up an award was Social Security Scotland, for work to ensure changes to support payments for people who are bereaved or terminally ill are co-designed, effective and accessible to those who need them. A spokesperson for SSS outlined some other ways they work to support people who are bereaved:

“Social Security Scotland operates a bereavement service of specially trained client advisers to provide help to people who have to report a death and need to update us. With just one phone call, people can report the death of a family member, friend or loved one directly to an expert adviser. At that point, our adviser will take the necessary information for all payments that need to be cancelled.”

The Inspiring Community Award went to Pushing up the Daisies, a pioneering charity whose aim is for everyone in Scotland to know their practical options when someone dies.

Kate Clark, one of the founders of Pushing up the Daisies said:

“We support people to find what’s right for them especially when they instinctively want to keep someone’s body at home, or bring them back home, after their death.

“We believe that the time between someone’s death and their burial or cremation can give important opportunities to really experience and register that the person has died, to connect with others affected by the death and to begin to actively adjust to the changes in relationships that it heralds.”

St Columba’s Hospice Care in Edinburgh picked up the Creative Innovation Award for their Child and Family Service, which has been finding new ways to extend its support into the community, including working with schools.

Donna Hastings, Child & Families Lead at the hospice said:

“Supporting adult caregivers with information and resources to help them have conversations with their children about an illness in a timely age-appropriate way can help children to be included and have choice and this can make all the difference to the way they are able to process and manage both anticipatory grief and grief following bereavement. Providing children with an opportunity to explore how a death/approaching death is impacting their everyday lives can help them manage their grief better.”

Another high profile winner was Dr Kathryn Mannix, author of With the End in Mind, who won the Increasing Understanding Award. Dr Mannix said:

“Once people understand the process of dying, and its stages, I hope they will feel less afraid for themselves and the people they love, better able to be companions as their person is dying, and less startled or frightened by the unusual changes in consciousness and breathing noises that happen during dying. I get lots of lovely feedback from people whose change in understanding has helped them be better prepared, or to make sense of their experiences afterwards.”

The awards are part of Demystifying Death Week (1-7 May) which aims to shine a light on death, dying and bereavement in Scotland. Various online and face-to-face events are taking place during the week, from book tours and information sessions, to gardening events, death cafes and even a dip in the sea. The one thing all the events have in common is their aim to open up opportunities to learn about, and to plan ahead for, deteriorating health, dying and bereavement.

Photo credit: Kathryn Mannix photo by Darren Irwin

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