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BLOG Let’s talk about dying

May 2021

Care

This week is Dying Matters Awareness Week and we are taking the opportunity to open up the conversation about death, dying and bereavement. In this blog Prospect Hospice medical director Sheila Popert talks about why this is important.

 

Elliot Dallen was 31 when he died from cancer. In the weeks before his death he wrote an article for the Guardian: below is a short extract.

“Now that there’s no longer any way to treat my cancer, I’ve been reflecting on what I want others to know about life and death. Life for me is about living, not just clocking up the years.

“Everybody dies, and there will always be places and experiences missing from anyone’s life – the world has too much beauty and adventure for one person to see.

“I’ve had time to think about the things that are really important to me, and I want to share what I’ve discovered; the importance of gratitude, a life if lived well is long enough, it’s important to let yourself be vulnerable and connect to others, do something for others, protect the planet.”

Thinking and talking about death is not the preserve of those who are facing a life-limiting illness; thinking about our own mortality galvanises us into considering what is really important in our lives and it is never too soon to do that.

Life is short for all of us whether we live to be 1 or 100 yet it is easy to get so caught up in the busyness of our lives that we tend to put what really matters to us on hold.

The time around birth is a very special part of life and most people spend time thinking about how they wish it to pan out, what will be important to them, who they wish to be present, what help they might need.

Life is what happens while we are making other plans but there is a better chance of having the birth that is desired if plans have been made. The same applies to death and dying, it is also a very special part of life.

Dehlia was 82 with a diagnosis of widespread cancer and I was asked to visit her at home after she was discharged from hospital. She was very weak and close to death. Her flat was full of treasures; every item had a tiny label on the bottom marked with a number and she had a sheet of paper with all the numbers and next to each number was a name.

I couldn’t understand where she had got the strength and energy to do all that work. She explained that when her mother died 20 years earlier she and her siblings had argued over who should get what and none of them could agree on the funeral arrangements.

She had decided there and then that she would leave all her affairs in order and she went about her flat taking pleasure in choosing the gifts that would be passed on to nephews, nieces and friends.

She had also written detailed instructions for her cremation, including the song that she wanted played as her coffin was carried into the crematorium – Another One Bites the Dust. She giggled as she told me it would come as a shock to the mourners as she knew she was regarded fondly but as being rather straight laced.

Death has a 100% success rate, it will happen to us all. Reluctance to talk about death and dying can arise from a desire not to think about something potentially difficult and distressing, however another way to view it is that talking about death is about planning for life.

 

Sheila Popert is medical director at Prospect Hospice. She has been a palliative medicine consultant for over 30 years and describes her role as being the best job in the world for making you appreciate how lucky you are. She has a special interest in the holistic management of pain and the reduction in the use of opioids.

 

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