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Your Later Life Q4 2020

Planning for death: What Jim Carter learnt from losing his parents

Image provided by Marie Curie

Jim Carter OBE

Marie Curie Ambassador (pictured)

Downton Abbey star Jim Carter OBE reveals how his father’s death when he was a teenager shaped his own end of life plans.


We probably know him best as Downton Abbey’s loyal butler, Mr Carson – a man who never likes to share his feelings or talk about private matters. But actor Jim Carter OBE wants to do the opposite. He’s a vocal supporter of Marie Curie’s Talkabout campaign to break the taboo about the subject so many of us shy away from – dying.

Planning and preparing

“I don’t think [talking about death] has to be depressing,” says Jim. “I think it really helps if you can talk about it and prepare. We all know that we’re going to die – I don’t wish to sound hard-hearted, just pragmatic.

“Thinking about my mum, when she was in her 90s, she said to me: ‘Look, I just want to see Jessica Ennis win a gold medal at the London Olympics.’ She saw that, then she got up to being 100 and we had a wonderful family celebration. She died six months later. But she had planned for her funeral, she’d said what music she wanted to be played and had even written a poem to be read out on the day. It made us all feel that she was very much part of the occasion and that we were remembering her as she would have wanted to be remembered.

“Some people are very superstitious and can’t bring themselves to talk about death – they think that not talking about death is a loving act. I don’t think that’s true, because if you don’t talk about it, you don’t prepare. It can cause a lot of regret, a lot of anger, a lot of upset. You ask yourselves: ‘Well, what music does she want at her funeral? What should we do?’ When people want to grieve, they don’t want to be bogged down in the petty details. Make a Will.”

Some people are very superstitious and can’t bring themselves to talk about death – they think that not talking about death is a loving act. I don’t think that’s true, because if you don’t talk about it, you don’t prepare.

Emotional fallout

“My dad’s death was a shock. It came out of the blue. I was 16, my sister was 11, my brother was 19. It affected us all differently. We didn’t talk about it and my sister wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral. I think the thinking was that she would be saved from a trauma, but, actually, it has caused a lot of problems. She felt she was excluded from the grieving process. That still has an effect today.

“Whereas my mum’s death was all open and prepared for, so there’s no emotional fallout from that. Fifty-odd years after my dad’s death, there’s still emotional fallout because of the way it was handled. Maybe witnessing his death and my grandparents’ deaths – all before the age of 60 – made me feel more pragmatic about it. I don’t wish to seem callous; I just accept death as a fact of life.

“If you can’t say the word ‘death’, it doesn’t matter if you say, ‘passed away’ or ‘popped his clogs’, that doesn’t matter, just talk about it and it becomes less frightening.”

The Marie Curie Talkabout campaign aims to get people thinking, talking and planning for the end of life. There is a wealth of information on their website including conversation cards, checklists and advice. Visit mariecurie.org.uk/talkabout

If you, or someone you know, is affected by a terminal illness, dying, death or bereavement, then the Marie Curie Support Line team are ready to help, seven days a week, with practical information and emotional support when you need it, including a bereavement support service. Call free 0800 090 2309 or visit mariecurie.org.uk

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Why you should view your optician in a new light

Sarah Joyce

Superintendent Optometrist, Asda

An eye test doesn’t only check your vision. It can also pick up general health issues such as hypertension and diabetes — which is why regular eye testing is so crucial.


When was the last time you had your eyes tested? If the answer is ‘not for years’ or, worse, ‘never’, you need to book an appointment with an optometrist.

It’s true that this may be easier said than done during the pandemic; but everyone should have their eyes tested regularly for the good of their vision — but also for the good of their health. Opticians are healthcare providers. It’s just that, because they’re usually located on the high street, patients don’t often view them that way.

“I think most people tend to associate an eye test with buying new glasses or ordering more contact lenses,” says Sarah Joyce, Superintendent Optometrist, at Asda’s headquarters in Leeds. “So, they assume that as long as their sight is OK, they don’t need to bother with them. But the fact is that an optometrist doesn’t simply check a patient’s vision. They will also check the health of their eyes to look for serious conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts. By studying the nerves and blood vessels in the eyes, they can also pick up systemic disorders such as diabetes, hypertension and even tumours in some cases. That’s why eyes tests are so important.”

Processes and precautions to keep customers safe

During the first lockdown, Asda Opticians — which operates 156 opticians in its stores across the UK — limited appointments to patients who needed urgent care. “That was the right thing to do at the time,” says Joyce, “because it prevented unnecessary travelling and limited person-to-person contact.” But now, even though staff are working through a backlog of patients created by the pandemic, anyone who needs an appointment should be able to book one. “If you’re having to isolate and can’t see the optometrist face-to-face, you should still arrange a telephone consultation so you can be supported and managed in the right way if you are having any problems,” says Joyce.

Another reason why numbers of eye tests have fallen this year is that many patients — and particularly ones in later life — didn’t book appointments for fear of catching the virus. Joyce understands their concern because, as anyone who has visited an optometrist knows, social distancing isn’t an option during the eye test itself.

The fact is that an optometrist doesn’t simply check a patient’s vision. They will also check the health of their eyes to look for serious conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts.

Still, she points out that there are processes and precautions that opticians have put in place to safeguard their customers as much as possible. For example, there are screens in the dispensing areas and on pieces of equipment used in the testing rooms, and strict booking system have been implemented to prevent customers coming into the store to browse for new frames, allowing us to control numbers of customers on department and significant infection control processes

Frequent checks can pick up age-related eye conditions

The bottom line is that regular eye testing is essential for all. Take glaucoma, because it progresses slowly it’s not uncommon for patients to be unaware that they have it — and, if left untreated, it can cause blindness. Similarly, frequent checks can pick up macular degeneration, be it the wet type (the most serious kind) or the dry type. Catching it early enough may save your sight.

“The key with glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts is regular testing,” says Joyce. “Or if you notice symptoms such as an eye that is red or painful, or you have any changes in your vision — such as loss of vision, double vision, distortion in your vision or flashing lights — then make an appointment to see your optometrist immediately. Also, when you ring to make a booking, let them know so you can be triaged with the appropriate urgency. But do something about it. Don’t ignore it, quick intervention will always lead to the best outcome.”

Find out more at opticians.asda.com

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