The perfect finish

07 May 2024

Pippa Collins is an Advanced Clinical Practitioner and Research Fellow based in Dorset, and is the Nurse and Allied Health Professional representative on the BGS End of Life Care Special Interest Group committee. Here she shares a conversation with her parents, Brian and Eileen, for Dying Matters Awareness Week.

How do we talk about dying to people who are closer to that eventuality than we are? My parents are 91 and 93 and over lunch we had a conversation about dying.

Me: Do you talk about dying?

Dad: I don't really, no.

Mum: I think that we discuss with each other things that will happen. For instance, where is our will? And we've got to decide what hymns we would like for our funeral; what music we'd like.

Me: What about talking to healthcare professionals about dying?

Mum: Wouldn't mind

Dad: Wouldn't mind at all.

Me: What sort of language should they use?

Mum: English! They don't have to be careful; everybody's going to die. The sooner we get our minds round it the better.

Me: Being direct, is that acceptable?

Mum: Yes, it is to us. Surely for most people. We've all got to die.

Dad: People just don't talk about dying really.

Me: Why do you think that is?

Dad: There was one of those famous American comedians who said, "I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens".

Mum: We started thinking about it some time ago when we had the shower room built and then the stair lift. And now I've got a wheelie walker to get from bed to the toilet at night. I didn't realise how good it would be.

Me: And what about the news this morning about assisted dying?

Dad: Well, I, yes, I prefer the idea of a natural death when God thinks it’s time he takes us, rather than when I decide. Of course, I'm not in an incurable position so it’s difficult to relate to someone like Esther Rantzen who is dying.

Mum: If you’re in terrible pain, I think it would be a good option. I was thinking about my friend, she had cancer all over the place and she was in terrible pain towards the end. It was awful, and she longed just to die.

Dad: That’s a failure of palliative care, isn't it?

Me: Where would you like to die?

Mum: Yes, die in bed.

Dad: Or die in the garden; sitting on a bench in the sunshine. My friend just died. Sitting on a bench in the garden and just died. And that's how I'd go.

Mum: One of my snowdrop friends was staying with her son, weeding in the garden. Had a heart attack and fell over dead. She wasn't standing up, she was kneeling down weeding.

Me: So do you see it very much as a natural thing that happens?

Dad: Yes

Mum: Yes. It will happen; one day. But not just yet because I've got plans in the garden. No point being afraid of it. My sister was afraid of dying. Don't know why. She used to say, "I'm terrified of dying". And she said, "well what happens when you die?" Well, I said, you stop living. She said, "I know, but I'm still afraid".

Me: Do think that having a faith makes it easier?

Mum: I think so.

Dad:  I think it probably helps, too, to have some form of faith in the future because I'm fairly positive that there's something else to come and so it’s not so much a ghastly end rotting in a hole in the ground - it’s actually a beginning of something else. So that does help, I think.

Mum: And I believe it’s my spirit goes up somewhere.

Dad: We had a guest priest to preach a sermon in our church some years ago. The minister came and gave us a sermon and I always remember because he said that he would love to come and preach a sermon, but he had been asked to preach on the theme of death and afterlife; and he was driving around thinking what on earth he was going to preach about, and he drove into the filling station and there's a car wash, and there was an enormous banner by the car wash and it said "For the perfect finish"!  And that's what he made the theme. Isn't that lovely?


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