Longfield Hospice is encouraging people to talk about death and grief and to speak to their loved ones about their final wishes.

Longfield chief executive Simon Bernstein lost his dad Leonard in December and his mum Carole passed away in 2011 after being diagnosed with secondary cancer.

Here he writes about the power of memories and the importance of sharing the stories of those we have lost.

“Death and dying aren’t easy subjects to bring up in normal conversation. But it’s important we talk about them to enable people with life-threatening illnesses to share their concerns and wishes, and to support family members and carers of those dying as well as people bereaved of a loved one.

"That’s especially true right now when so many more of us are aware of all the additional deaths due to Covid-19.

"I read somewhere that we become more immune to death the bigger the numbers involved.

"That’s why the stories of individuals, even if complete strangers, are critical to us maintaining our ability to care and be moved emotionally by death.

"I’m a great believer in the power of stories to open up conversations about death.

"Sharing memories of loved ones is one way to do this indirectly.

"Another is through objects, the simplest of which can often hold huge meaning for each of us no matter what they are.

"I was fortunate enough to be with my dad at his home for the last 10 days before he died in December. My mum died in 2011.

"At the end of February, my two siblings and I, our partners and six children, went to my parents’ house in east London to sort out what we wanted to keep and the much harder choice of what to throw away. They had lived in that house since 1967.

"The ceiling hoist, and the hospital bed in which my dad spent the last few years of his life with Parkinson’s and dementia and in which he died, were gone. My dad was gone too.

"But 50 years of my memories are held in that house and the objects it contains. It is a museum of memories.

"When we were doing the sorting, each of us found a meaningful object.

"I came across my mum’s special sewing scissors that were strictly only to be used for cutting cloth and cotton.

"What struck me about them was their age, the solid metal weight compared to modern ones, and especially the beautiful sound they made.

"I recalled my mum sitting at her sewing machine.

"Among many things, these scissors were used to make me a pair of very flared seersucker trousers out of an old multi-coloured tablecloth – in my defence, it was the 1970s and I was a very fashion-conscious 10 years old.

"But the scissors also sparked a visceral teenage memory of my orthodox Jewish grandfather’s funeral.

"I was standing alongside my dad in the chapel when the rabbi tried to cut his tie in half – a symbolic expression of grief and anger at losing a loved one by ritualistically tearing or cutting the clothes of the mourners.

"There was a bit of a struggle and a very tense atmosphere, but my dad, a scientist and avowed atheist, stuck to his guns and refused to ruin a perfectly good black tie. That excruciating experience will stay with me forever.

"I’ve kept the scissors, not because of the embarrassing memory but because they remind me of my mum, especially when I hold them.

"And when I do, I sometimes talk to my children about her and what it means to lose someone close.

"That hasn’t stopped my teenage daughter using them to cut paper for her art projects mind you. But my mum would find that funny.

"What object brings back your memories of a loved one?”

For more help and advice about bereavement, please visit: longfield.org.uk/bereavement-services

Longfield is also encouraging people to make a will so that those people and causes they care about are looked after. They’ve teamed up with Bequeathed to offer a free online will service. See: longfield.org.uk/leave-a-gift-in-your-will

Longfield is a community hospice based in Minchinhampton.

As well as providing Hospice at Home care, Longfield also offers help and support to patients and their carers through a range of services that include counselling and bereavement support, day therapy, complementary therapy and carers services.

For more information, visit longfield.org.uk