Dying Matters Awareness Week 2nd-6th June 2022

Dying Matters Awareness Week runs from 2nd – 6th May 2022, where communities across the country will come together to talk about death, dying and bereavement. Here, Joy explains why talking about, and preparing for, death is so very important to the grief process.

One of the worst experiences we are faced with in life is the grief of losing someone close to us. Some people will be fortunate to have never experienced the death of a loved one and unfortunately others are too familiar with the feelings of loss and bereavement

I experienced this specific form of trauma first-hand when my son, Jack, died suddenly and unexpectedly the day before his 40th birthday. Having a conversation with your child about what they would want to happen if they died before you is not one that most parents would think about or even relish. But there are things I wish I had known when Jack died, like whether he wanted a traditional or natural burial, and what music he would have wanted at his funeral.

If there is no formal written evidence of what you or your loved one wants, and you’ve never had the conversation with them (as many people haven’t), you have to make all of those decisions on their behalf. That’s why being prepared to have that all important conversation is so important.

But where do you start? Choose an appropriate venue, comfortable and private, where and when you are unlikely to be disturbed, maybe at your home or theirs over coffee, lunch or dinner, and choose a good time when they are not rushed or put under pressure.

Provide a file you have produced containing your wishes on the event of your death, or you become incapable of expressing your wishes due to mental or physical illness. Make sure to tell them where you will keep the file safely and for them to find easily. This will remove a huge amount of stress at the time of your death as they can go straight to the file

Your file should contain details of your executor and where is the will kept, if you have made one.  Where important documents are kept – house deeds, insurance, bank details, credit/store cards, etc. A list of usernames and passwords for all technical devices and social media, etc

Have you had the discussion about organ, tissue or full body donation? This will help medical staff as well as your loved ones. Similarly, do they know your wishes in the event of terminal, mental or physical illness leading to incapacity to make your own decisions eg, on life support machine, dementia, brain damage.

More practical issues should be included like where and what type of funeral you would like, what you would prefer family and friends to wear, your choice of coffin and/or where you want your ashes scattered or body laid to rest, and any specific wishes regarding flowers or donations.

These are just a few of the decisions that can be clarified to reduce the amount of distress on your loved ones at what will be the most difficult time for them. What will be important to them is knowing that they are fulfilling your wishes and that will bring them great comfort.

This is why Dying Matters Awareness Week is so crucial in raising awareness of the need to talk death and the impact on loved ones left behind.

In support of this valuable initiative, I am offering the Kindle version of my book ‘From Hole to Whole: Embracing the Transformational Power of Grief and Loss’ for just 99p until 6th June – available from Amazon.


Coping with grief at Christmas

Christmas can be a painful time whether it’s your first year without someone who has died, or you were bereaved long ago. I wanted to share my own experience of getting through a time that is associated with being with family and loved ones.

Losing a loved one is always hard, but the festive season can make it even tougher to be missing someone. The traditions that used to bring joy now act as a painful reminder of the person who is no longer here to share it with us.

When my son Jack died, suddenly and unexpectedly the day before his 40th birthday, it was the worst thing I could imagine happening in my life. I have an adult daughter, Jeneen, and a husband, John, a private therapy practice established in 2008, and an extended family with needs as well as my own to consider. It is true to say that being a professionally trained psychotherapist, counsellor and complementary therapist myself who has worked successfully with many clients experiencing grief helped me, but this did not diminish my raw and very real pain in the initial stages following his death.

There is no competition with pain. Pain is pain and grief is grief; there is no escaping it. It felt like a big hole had been carved out of my chest and stomach; the pain was physical. Fortunately, I was aware that there is, in counselling terms, a ‘grief process’, so I decided to surrender myself absolutely and go with the flow of that process. This proved particularly effective as I faced my first Christmas without my beloved son which was just two months after he had passed in the October.

Different people will choose to cope with grief at Christmas in different ways and there is no right or wrong way to do things: the important thing is that it is the right way to do things for you. Take some time, early on, to think about how you want to do Christmas and how this will or won’t affect those around you whether or not they are bereaved as well.

Some bereaved people find that they do not wish to celebrate Christmas at all, whilst some find that simply maintaining their routine and celebrating as normal is the best tribute, they can pay their loved one.

I decided I didn’t want to have a family Christmas day as this would be just too painful to endure. Instead, I went to our local pub for Christmas dinner with my husband John and was among strangers having a happy time. This way I felt part of the traditional celebrations but was still able to remain distant and self-contained in my grief. My family and friends understood. The next day, Boxing Day, I organised a family gathering for brunch, present giving and games. Allowing all family members to grieve in their own individual way. Although I couldn’t face the prospect of buying presents as I found it just too difficult to get into the spirit of things, I gifted vouchers instead. Again, this was understood. Everyone did their best to enjoy themselves as Jack would have wanted them to, although the sadness of his lack of presence was very much evident. Our favourite photo of him was placed in the dining and living room so we could feel him close to us.

I learned to make time within the hustle and bustle of Christmas to express my feelings of grief. It’s so important to feel able to talk about and cry for your lost loved one with people who will really listen without trying to ‘fix’ you.

Trying to keep to regular patterns of sleeping and eating is sometimes easier said than done but I discovered that it’s the small things that can make a difference. We can all drink more on festive occasions, but it’s important to remember that using alcohol to escape the pain of loss provides only very temporary relief.

Finally, I found it immensely helpful to find ways to celebrate and honour my son’s life. Every Christmas, we sing some of Jack’s favourite Christmas songs and or dance madly to some of his favourite festive tunes. His particular favourite was ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ by Slade! He would always shout, ‘It’s Christmas!’ at the top of his voice each time he heard it as if it were the very first time. Whenever I hear it now, it brings a smile to my face!

Making good, healthy decisions about how we grieve is our own choice, and knowing we have a choice in extremely challenging circumstances can be a liberating, empowering and settling experience.

Christmas won’t be the same again, but you can take positive steps to make sure your loved one is still very much part of it.

How can we grieve someone we don’t know?


When we hear on the news or via some other means that a high-profile figure has died it is perfectly natural for us to reflect on our feelings towards them. Those feelings have been built up, possibly over many years and may be good, bad or indifferent depending on their achievements, actions or perceived personality, but there will be many thoughts, feelings and emotions stored in our subconscious mind, which form our opinion of that person, almost as if we know them personally. So, we may genuinely feel grief for the loss of that person and also genuine sorrow and compassion for their own family for their loss.

There is also the ‘collective consciousness’ where people want to do what others are doing for fear or being different or left out, or sometime just thinking that it’s what they should be doing, it’s what is expected.

It is part of the grieving process to miss the past, particularly if the memories are positive, but perhaps less so with someone we didn’t actually know because they weren’t an active daily part of our lives, so our own future is not likely to be affected. Grieving for the future is less likely with someone of a good age as their death, while sad, is partially expected, but with someone young there is the grief of not seeing and helping them to grow and flourish, lost opportunities, things that might have been and lost potential.

 For instance, Diana, Princess of Wales, was such a vibrant character, young and with much of her life yet to live which was always so openly exposed in the media. She captured the heart of the nation and was so admired for her charity work and her willingness to help those less fortunate. Her sudden death was a shock to the whole nation and again it was the loss of so much potential, what might have been, that the nation mourned for.

I think Prince Phillip lived longer than many people thought he would, so although it was expected, particularly with all the time he has spent in hospital recently. He will always be remembered for his own work, the Duke of Edinburgh Award, being president of the World Wildlife Fund etc, but because of his age the feeling is more one of acceptance.

 With regards to showing our own respect, part of it is tradition, the rites, rituals and processes this country is familiar with. In grief familiar things become more important and the need to ‘do something’ is very strong. The best thing that the general public can do is to respect the wishes of the family, just the same as any funeral, however, many people will feel the need to show their grief openly and if done for the right reasons that can be a good way to release those feelings. A book of condolence is an excellent idea, writing a short message can act as a release of emotions, getting those thoughts out of your head and onto a page for others to see is a very healthy way to release the grief.

Under normal circumstances, there would undoubtedly have been a State Funeral, with many events giving the nation a chance to grieve together, but as that is not possible, we should all respect the current regulations and follow events via TV and social media platforms.  “No fuss” is what Prince Philip requested, the Queen and the Royal Family have respected that, and so should we all to avoid a potential rise in infections and many more deaths to mourn.

How to Tell Children About Death

As an adult it can completely overwhelm and consume us. For children, it can sometimes be even harder to move through and past the death of a loved one, primarily because they simply might not have the emotional capability and understanding to deal with such a situation.

Some people believe that they should withhold the information of someone dying from their children and of course it is their decision, but honesty is usually the best way. Sooner or later they will realise something is not right and then you might need to tell them anyway, which may make it more difficult. If they loved and cared for someone, they should know what has happened to them.

We know that death is an inevitable part of life, but talking about death is something most of us, if not all, are not very good at because the subject is too painful or we simply don’t know what to say.

Death happens in so many different ways. It can be sudden, expected, prolonged or even accidental; none of us really knows how we are going to die. Part of the experience of death is finding ways to accept what has happened, express what we are feeling and find ways to move on. We, as adults, need to find ways to help our children to do this too.

So, what advice can we give about telling a child about death?

  • Be truthful – it is better to be honest right from the start and tell them immediately so that they don’t overhear parts of conversations and misunderstand.
  • Be Clear – Don’t try and soften your words by using things like “passed” or “we’ve lost them” because this can be misinterpreted by children. Don’t be afraid to use the words dead and died.
  • Be prepared – Each person reacts differently to death and this is the same with children so be prepared for a variety of different emotional responses. None of them are wrong and you need to allow your child to express how they are feeling whether it comes across as happy, sad, angry or unfeeling.
  • Don’t Overload – Try not to overload them with lots of information at once. Gauge how much information your child can handle and break everything down in to chunks of that size.
  • Cry – One of the best things you can do for your child is to cry. Allow them to see you cry. Crying is simply the opposite of smiling and it’s okay to show them how you are feeling and to let them know that it is okay for them to do it too.

During times of grief, we often forget about taking care of ourselves especially if our children are grieving too. However, children will always learn from what they see, so ensuring you practice a little self-care is important so that they follow suit.

Everyone grieves in their own way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. You will all need to understand that a “new normal” will take the place of the old one – and that time is needed to adjust to it, especially if it is a significant death that will impact upon daily life. If you think you need or your children need additional support, reach out as it is there to be found in places such as your child’s school, your doctor, private counselling or bereavement support charities which exist for both adults and children.

The biggest advice of all is simply to take things one step at a time.

What is Bereavement Therapy?

It can take months, sometimes even years, to even begin understanding how you feel when you lose a loved one. Emotions are heightened, some of them are new and they’re often so intense it feels as if we will be overwhelmed!

Sometimes it feels as though we simply cannot cope with everyday life, that we’re going to be consumed by our grief. Or that we simply do not understand the feelings we are experiencing when it comes to grief. It is at this point that something like Bereavement Therapy can really make all the difference.

Grief is painful and exhausting and there is no right way to deal with it. It can sometimes seem easier to hide from these feelings all together rather than confronting them. However, working through the sadness and allowing ourselves to feel and express our feelings can really help the bereavement process to begin.   There are many ways that grief can manifest and it differs for each person, below are just some of the ways in which people can suffer:

Crying fits

Bereavement therapy will do just that. It is there to allow the bereaved person a neutral party to talk with, cry with and express all their feelings to, without feeling like a burden upon those around them.

Bereavement therapy or bereavement counselling involves supporting people through the experience of losing someone close to them. It’s a chance to work through the grief as well as learning some coping mechanisms to help when they’re on their own.

Bereavement counselling is literally for anyone, of any age suffering grief from whatever kind of loss. If your life is being adversely affected by the overwhelming sense of loss, then you need to speak to someone and let those feelings out.

Talking about death is the first step to overcoming it and that is what a Bereavement therapist is for. I am there to listen and help.

“Bereavement is terrible, of course. And when somebody you love dies, it’s a time for reflection, a time for memory, a time for regret.”
R. Dawkins

Do you think therapists make money out of people’s misery?

I am writing this from my heart…please read on.

Two and half years ago when my son died, I joined some online Facebook Grief support groups for people coping with grief. This was a very personal choice I made, and my reasons for joining were purely about me, to help me through my grieving process and to be connected to others also going through the same thing. Respecting sensitivities all around, I have been very aware and conscious of the fact I am a professional counsellor so deliberately did my best to be careful with what I posted and shared, and how and what I responded to others to be both supported and supportive. I don’t believe I ever let it be known what I do within these groups.

I was quite shocked when a couple weeks ago I read quite an aggressive post from an administrator of one of these groups who stated in capital letters to say that all Therapists and Psychics only take advantage of vulnerable people grieving and want to make money out of them. So, no therapists or psychics are welcome and should leave the group. Feeling quite uncomfortable, although knowing I had a clear conscience as I knew I had never ‘touted’ for business in this or any of these groups, I was very interested and continued to read the replies from members of the group.

Some people agreed with the administrator and were very damning due to their preconceived ideas or possibly their personal experiences, whilst others were more positive supporting the place of therapeutic and psychic support through their grieving experience as they perceived it.

I spent some time pondering what felt like an ‘attack’ on my integrity; questioning, examining myself for feeling hurt and then becoming quite angry as my own personal intentions as a therapist have always been to help and offer healing to others.

I thought about all my many years of experience, both personal and as a professional (see my LinkedIn profile); my own financial and personal investment in achieving this; the years of hard work and dedication in gaining my qualifications; my regular ongoing continuous professional and personal development (CPD) and training about which I am most conscientious. Also, for the excellent supervision I financially and personally invest in monthly and the thousands of client supervised hours I have accumulated;  the many membership bodies I belong to which also ensure I work within ethical boundaries and care with my clients; for voluntary activity being on the panel for Clients Complaints for the National Counselling Society for years.

This is what clients pay for when they come to see me and, since my son died, I have extended my services to specialising in grief to help others, and not for making money from grief but because I understand grief and have learnt how I can  help on a much deeper level than before.

This is why I wrote my book, ‘From Hole to Whole – Embracing the Transformational Power of Grief and Loss’: to be of service to others, and to offer further support through the courses I developed from the book. In fact, I have self–funded, paid out a lot of money in getting this book published, and a new www.joysackettwood.com website and all the work that’s gone into it to offer free online support and advice, and the new social media platforms etc. So far, this financial investment has not had a return, which actually I truly don’t mind, just as long as it is of some help to anyone on their grief journey.

Additionally, I have always offered discounted costs to all my sessions to students and those in challenging financial circumstances in order to, ethically, further support them through their present difficulties to a happier place of peace and contentment.

Don’t people pay for prescriptions from the doctor, the dentist, the chiropractor, etc when they need to?

Really, are therapists just making money out of other people’s misery?

Don’t Feel Guilty

The end of someone’s life can be quick or it can be drawn out. It can be painful, or it can be painless. Whilst it is sad for the person whose life is coming to an end, some people don’t take into account how difficult it can be for the family around them.

If someone is suffering a long-term illness, family members often feel it is their “duty” to take care of them and despite end of life and palliative care being available, they often feel guilty accepting the help, but this shouldn’t be the case.

There is no set time or specific point within an illness that end of life care should begin. It all depends on each patient and how their illness progresses, but also on the carers and the amount of support they are physically and mentally able to give.

As your loved one enters the stage where they need end of life care, their needs can dramatically change and this can have a huge impact on the demands placed upon you, the caregiver.

Reaching out and asking for help is not admitting defeat or stating that you cannot cope and is certainly nothing to feel guilty about. It simply means both yourself and your loved one need care and support in order to make sure they are well cared for towards the end of their illness.

Perhaps your loved one can no longer talk, walk, eat, go to the bathroom or get themselves dressed and others may get to a point where they require total support. If you yourself also have a job and your own family to support, having someone who requires full time end of life care can be too much of a burden.

Not only does using end of life care provide you with some support and comfort, but it can also help your loved one in keeping their dignity. The most helpful interventions, whether they be in hospital, at home or in a hospice, are those which help in relieving pain and discomfort and allow family and friends to make final lasting memories without the burden of care.

Many worry about loss of control and loss of dignity as their physical abilities decline. It’s also common for patients to fear being a burden to their loved ones, yet at the same time also fear being abandoned. Talk with them, find out what their wishes are and then find a solution that is right for you all, but DON’T feel guilty in asking for help.

Life After You

There is no good time for someone to die. Yes, if they have been suffering it can be somewhat of a relief when they finally pass as it means they are no longer in pain but unfortunately, their passing means that you are the one left to suffer.

Grief is always challenging, and if you’re going through a particularly difficult period and still feeling the impact grief can have upon you, whether someone has passed in recently or some time ago, Christmas can be a particularly challenging time.

Feelings of loss and grief can often be accentuated at Christmas because those around us appear to have a collective sense of joy and celebration – but for you, someone is missing. Often, we feel as if we need to put on a brave face, so as not to “inflict” our grief upon others and so we force the merriment out from inside of us, but in the end that can leave us feeling so much worse.

So, how do you cope with grief at Christmas?


There is no point in pretending that everything is okay and will be the same as it ever was because it won’t. Someone who had an impact upon your life is gone and things can’t and won’t be the same. However, this doesn’t mean they have to be worse; it just means they will be different and acknowledgement is the first thing you need to do.


If you’re struggling, due to outward appearances you often feel like you’re isolated and the only one feeling like this.  This is not the case; know that you are not alone. We all experience and express grief in different ways and must be allowed to find our own paths, but this doesn’t mean you need to do it alone. Don’t shut yourself away. Talk to someone; friends and family will always be on hand to listen, but if this is too hard then think about talking to a therapist, bereavement counsellor or even the Samaritans. There is always someone who will listen.


Often one of the biggest causes of grief can be that you feel you may have lost the connection with your loved one who has passed. Remember the happy times, find family photographs or play a favourite song and use this to restore your connection and feel close again.


Before the season fully gets underway, try and think ahead and consider what festivities and traditions you think you will feel comfortable participating in and ones that you really can’t face. Some will be too painful, but others may help you feel close to the one you lost. It is okay to say no to offers from friends and family, they will understand. This is a time to think about you and what you want to do.

“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on” Havelock Ellis

How to deal with grief during the Christmas period

If you look around at Christmas time, mostly what you will see is smiling faces, laughter, happiness, perhaps a little over indulgence and someone flustered behind the scenes from trying to get everything done and perfect.

What you don’t tend to see or perhaps a better way to put it is don’t want to see is sadness and grief. Christmas can be a painful time whether it’s your first year without someone who has died, or you were bereaved long ago. Losing a loved one is always hard, but the festive season can make it even tougher to be missing someone.

The traditions that used to bring joy now act as a painful reminder of the person who is no longer here to share it with us. Different people will choose to cope with grief at Christmas in different ways. There is no right or wrong way to do things, the important thing is that it is the right way to do things for you. Take some time, early on, to think about how you want to do Christmas and how this will or won’t affect those around you whether or not they are bereaved as well.

Some bereaved people find that they do not wish to celebrate Christmas at all, whilst some find that simply maintaining their routine and celebrating as normal is the best tribute they can pay their loved one.

Make time within the hustle and bustle of Christmas to express your feelings of grief. It’s so important that you feel able to talk about and cry for your lost loved one with people who will really listen without trying to ‘fix’ you.

Trying to keep to regular patterns of sleeping and eating are small things that can make a difference. We can all drink more on festive occasions, but it’s important to remember that using alcohol to escape the pain of loss provides only very temporary relief.

Don’t deprive yourself, but be careful not to let the rich Christmas foods become your comfort at this hard time. Make sure you are eating healthy, nutritious foods and drinking plenty of water.

Finally, find ways to celebrate and honour the life of the person you have lost. Sing some Christmas carols they loved or dance madly to some of their favourite festive tunes. If there was a cause that was particularly meaningful to them, consider volunteering there or helping out in the community.

Of course if you need to talk, we’re always here. 01202 303722 or joy@joysackettwood.com

It’s OK to Love Again

Sometimes it might be hard to comprehend, but it is OK to love more than one person in your lifetime. We do not have a limit on the amount of love we have to give. When our children are born, we often think about how we never knew that we could love something so much. Then concern grows when you’re expecting another child and you wonder how on earth you have enough love to love the same again?! But it just happens. It’s like your heart just shuffles things around and makes room.

When someone we love dies, and I am primarily talking about a partner or romantic interest, it is understandable at the beginning to think and truly believe that we will never love again. However, sometimes we are unfortunate enough to lose a lover when we have so much more of our life left to live and so much to experience, would we really want to never experience love again?

I’m here to tell you that it is OK to fall in love again.

Losing a partner is one of the most difficult things we could ever experience, whether from a long-term illness or through spontaneous loss. It often feels that the darkness on the road of bereavement will be perpetual, but one day you will open your eyes and perhaps feel ready to dip a toe back in the water of companionship, dating and possibly even love.

Some will actively decide to try dating again after a while, and some may be waiting for a sign to let them know it’s OK to be friends with someone of the opposite gender again. The important thing is to wait and know when you are ready. There is no right or wrong about when you will be ready… for some, it is months, other years and for some it is truly never, and they are content as they are.

The important thing is to have the conversation with yourself and ensure that you are truly ready so that you are being fair on both yourself and prospective new partners. You also need to remember that if you do manage to find love again, that it is OK and does not mean you loved your previous partner any less.

It simply means, your heart grew once again to let someone else in.

“When it’s gone, you’ll know what a gift love was. You’ll suffer like this. So go back and fight to restore it.”
Ian McEwan