dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Published March 17th 2021
All you need to know about death, dying and grief
End-of-life doula Anna Lyons and funeral director Louise Winter have brought together their understanding and experiences in a compendium which covers pretty much anything you need to know about death, dying, funerals and grief.
The book comes from their work together on the festival and website Life. Death. Whatever. which aims to normalise the conversation about death and dying. It is therefore not surprising that We all know how this ends. is an open and honest call to arms to encourage us all to have what can sometimes be seen to be difficult conversations.
We all know how this ends.
It many ways, this is a book more to dip into than to read in one go as it is packed with information covering all areas of the field. Whether it is discovering how a person's body changes at end of life, exploring the various ways of holding a funeral or understanding people's different experiences of grief, Lyons and Winter have plenty of knowledge as well as human experience. In keeping with their belief that death and dying need to be discussed, Lyons and Winter do not shy away from the details but present them in a straightforward manner.
Interspersed with the facts there is plenty of humanity. Lyons and Winter also share their own stories – how both moved from other professions into their chosen fields and why they believe their mission is so important. So too they feature reflections from members of the Life. Death. Whatever. community – some will make you smile, some will break your heart and some will do both. For example, there's Kris Hallenga of breast cancer charity KoppaFeel! sharing 'five terminal illness perks no-one tells you the day you're diagnosed' and palliative care patient Lucy Watts sharing 'five things I know about living now I know I'm dying'.
There is also a poignant section of Unsaid messages – postcards completed anonymously with the words people wished they had said to their loved ones while they could. Again we see human experience in all its colour from the messages stating 'Dad, I still can't believe you are missing all of this' and 'I wish I had told you how much you inspire me' to 'your cooking was f*****g dreadful'.
Written during COVID-19, Lyons and Winter also reflect on how the pandemic has affected families and patients trying to cope with dying in such extraordinary and difficult circumstances. The effects of people not able to be with their loved ones as they die and limits to the number of people attending funerals are yet to be fully understood.
But Lyons and Winter intend this volume to be life-affirming - their view is that if we consider our deaths and prepare for them as much as possible now, we can also focus on living our lives to the full.
As they explain in their introduction: "This book isn't a lament on the loss of life, because we believe that death and dying don't have to be gloomy or taboo subjects. Talking about death and dying can be life-affirming and life-enhancing."
Lyons and Winter are sharing their knowledge and insight at a time when it is badly needed. The last 12 months have in many ways focussed our attention on statistics around illness and death but that does not necessarily mean we have moved forward in our willingness to discuss death, dying and grief in all its facets. There is so much to learn and ponder in this book.