A day for thinking about death

Today is Good Friday and the year is 2020. There will never be another Good Friday like this. I hope. Our churches are closed because of the Coronavirus and we are all trying to find ways of keeping the Triduum at home. Some have created prayer spaces with symbols that mean something, some have watched a hundred videos on Facebook and YouTube and some clergy have felt inadequate at the expertise of others. Why didn’t I learn all this IT stuff before the lockdown began? Why didn’t I prepare better? And if someone said that to me I would tell them that doing your best is just fine. But today I’m not hearing it. Today I’m grumpy, and in a bad mood, and I’m missing my Good Friday.

From the first year that I became a Christian Holy Week has been so very special for me. The sights, the sounds, the smells all take me to that place far, far away and long, long ago. Since being ordained I have tried faithfully to share some of that life-changing week with my little flocks. Through Stations of the Cross, art, fasting, meditations, candlelit Compline, preaching the Passion, the Veneration of the Cross, foot-washing, shared meals, prostrating at the Garden of Repose, and the joy of Holy Saturday and cleaning the church and preparing it for Easter Day. I love Holy Week. Yes, it makes me cry. But after the tears come Hot Cross Buns. And you know you have to go through the agony to appreciate the joy of Easter.

Today I’ve been thinking about death. My own death. I am ‘shielding’ at the moment which is the strictest kind of self-isolation for those who have an illness that puts them at high risk of catching the virus. Some people have one illness which puts them at risk. I have a few! I have COPD (lung disease) and Asthma, Diabetes, Liver disease, and I’m on steroids which lower my immune system. So I am being very careful indeed about staying indoors and washing everything over and over again. But there is still a chance I could catch it – when I’m at the doctor’s for blood tests, or at the hospital as I was on Monday. And I know that if I do get Coronavirus I might not survive it. For once I’m not being dramatic, for this is my reality. Usually I am a glass half-full kind of person but today I’m not. Because today, Good Friday, is a day for thinking about death and I can’t help but think of my own.

Many years ago, at the beginning of my ministry, I led an evening on Preparing Your Own Funeral and I’ve repeated them time and time again. It is a subject I am passionate about. I’ve met families who have not even considered that their parent or loved one might die and are totally unprepared for thinking about hymns or burial or cremation or what readings or any of the questions a priest might ask the next of kin. Prepare your own before you go! I’d shout. And people did. And I did. And I told my son where to find it. And I showed him where all my papers are. I could relax. All was in hand.

But things have changed. My hope for a full Requiem with clergy in black vestments and twelve favourite hymns just won’t happen if I should die while restrictions are in place. It may be my boys and a priest at the Crem. It may be short and, I’m sure, sweet but nothing as I’d planned and hoped. And that’s okay. To be honest, I think my boys might prefer it that way.

Speaking to a friend this week who is also ‘shielding’ she told me her GP had phoned to check that she was taking all the instructions seriously to the letter, and did anyone have Power of Attorney, and did she want a DNR put in place. She was shocked and upset. She hadn’t thought about that. And I haven’t either. I know I hope for a good death, a happy death but I also know that not everyone gets that. My mother didn’t. My father didn’t. I don’t want to be resuscitated if there’s no hope. But I haven’t done anything about that yet. I don’t want to die alone or with a stranger holding my hand in their gloved one. I’m not frightened of dying but I am frightened of the physical aspects of it and the emotional ones. Then I listen to the Passion story again and again and wonder why I’m afraid and feel rather silly.

So that’s where I am this Good Friday. I know it will pass. But this is where I am today. Thinking, probably over-thinking, about death. It has been a struggle this Holy Week. I pray that Easter will make it better.

Lent thoughts -Being

I have the most wonderful Podiatrist called Naresh and we have very interesting conversations about life, death and the universe while he tends to my tootsies. One of the questions he nearly always asks is what I’m reading. Last time I was there I was reading All That Remains: A Life in Death which was a fascinating look at our bodies after death and we had a wee chat about that. He knows I have a fascination with helping people achieve a ‘happy death’ and asked if I’d read Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. It is written from a medical point of view by an American doctor but there is much in it of a spiritual nature. Much of it is Case Studies of people he met who were given a terminal diagnosis and how they wanted to end their days. I’ve enjoyed reading it and been saddened by how society and the medical profession often treat patients. (Often, I said, not always. I am aware there are some good stories out there.)

One passage which caught my eye and gave me cause to pause during the Lenten season was this paragraph:

As our time winds down, we all seek comfort in simple pleasures – companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight on our faces. We become less interested in the rewards of achieving and accumulating, and more interested in the rewards of simply being. Yet while we may feel less ambitious, we also become concerned for our legacy. And we have a deep need to identify purposes outside ourselves that make living feel meaningful and worthwhile.

As I get older I can appreciate those sentiments. Recently I had a health scare which really made me think about what was important in my life, and accumulating ‘stuff’ which I don’t need became a real issue for me. I then spent a few weekends selling ‘stuff’ on Ebay and taking things to the charity shops. I thought about what was important to me and it was about spending time with family and reading more and worrying less. I also knew I had to sort out papers and get rid of so many files and magazines and books which I was holding on to unnecessarily. This is a work in progress!

Lent is a good time to let go of what takes us further from God. To let go of temptations which take us down paths we don’t need to travel. To let go of achieving and accumulation and focus on simply being.

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Death is not the end

2016 has had a sad start for me. At the end of 2015 three members of my little flock died. Each one of them was shocking and heart-breaking.

G died first. I had been visiting her for over five years since I’ve been here, taking her communion in her wonderful top-floor flat with views of the Ochils. G had a wonderful sense of humour and we shared a love of the same authors so got on well right from our first meeting. However, a stroke and then the loss of sight through macular degeneration left G deeply frustrated and unhappy. When her beloved only son died earlier in the year she felt she had nothing left to live for. G only had a granddaughter left but she lived in Glasgow and we never met. The first we heard of her death was when it appeared in the newspaper. We had talked about her funeral, G and I, and I knew that she wanted a simple service of the Committal. She wanted no eulogy, no hymns because she thought nobody would be there. When you get to your nineties there are not many friends left. No matter how often I told her that friends from church would be there she was convinced that there was no point in anything ‘fancy’. We agreed on a simple service. Perhaps her granddaughter didn’t know she was a member of Christ Church. Perhaps she was convinced by the Undertaker that they could take care of it all. So we gathered in the Crematorium, we friends of G, and listened to the Undertaker read two poems and say one sentence of the Committal. It was terribly, terribly sad.

A few weeks later I got a phone call to tell me M had died suddenly, found beside her bed. I’d seen her the day before bustling along Kerse Lane heading into town as she did every day. For M loved to shop. She loved to buy presents for all her family, friends and for me. Flowers Molly 2011 She looked well the day before she died. Her death was sudden and a shock. M had a large and loving family who grieved deeply at her death. Her funeral was on Christmas Eve in church and then at the Cemetery. The church was full and there were tears and laughter. M used to do the flowers for Christ Church and I know there was great concern that we should do her proud with a glorious display. It was a difficult funeral to take and I think that was partly because I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see her again with her full head of chestnut hair, even in her 80s – and  it was all natural, unlike my own! I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t get more tipsy glasses or a request for fluffy polar bears in the nativity. I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t see her every Thursday at Mass and be greeted with her eternal optimism.

Then there was the death of B, another huge shock. B had recently been diagnosed with cancer but it was treatable and was certainly not going to get him down. B was a character, a very private man with a loving wife, with a caustic sense of humour who never failed to make me laugh. He was People’s Warden all the time I’ve been here, loved opera and theatre, and more than anything loved to entertain with food. Afternoon Tea for the CHURCHCHRIST.RP.SERVICE.21housebound were catered for with bone china tea-sets, tiered cake plates and real linen napkins, flowers on the table, all thanks to B. His platters for the Quiz Night were famous and wherever there was food to be served, B was at the forefront organising it. After just one round of Chemo, B caught pneumonia of the worst kind. The kind which is resistant to any antibiotics. So just a few weeks after his diagnosis and after just one week of chemo he was taken into hospital, then ICU and then a few days later on the day before Christmas Eve we sat at his bedside while all the life-support was switched off. Too soon. Too soon. Again another shock that we wouldn’t see him again, taste his little amuse bouches. His funeral was the first I took in 2016 on the 6 January and we catered for his funeral tea in his memory. The joy of Epiphany was overwhelmed with sadness. A star had fallen from our skies.

Three lovely people gone. Each one a beloved child of God. Each one unique and each one a character. Each one missed by us all.

And then this week I began my post-Christmas holiday. I was tired. Tired of death. Tired of being strong and carrying on when all I wanted to do was sit down and weep. Tired of loss. Tired of shock. I knew it would be a holiday of sleeping and reading and thinking back over these few weeks of great loss. I didn’t want to go away. I just wanted to coorie down and wallow in sadness.

bowie_aladin_sane_1000pxAnd then David Bowie died. Not a man I knew, but a man I had adored since I was a young teenager. A man whose music was the soundtrack to my life. A man who shocked my parent’s generation but who thrilled us. A man who cared nought for gender or rules and no, I didn’t understand all of his music and lyrics but I loved them all the same. I know them all still. My boys grew up listening to his music and also know and love him. That made me strangely proud. Memories of listening to his LPs on our little record player over and over again, of dressing like Aladdin Sane at the local disco, of dancing a strange dance to Rebel Rebel with my first boyfriend at a wedding, of wishing I had straight hair so I could have mine cut like his, of crying at Murrayfield when he walked on stage in that blue suit on the Serious Moonlight Tour. And I didn’t even know he was ill. I was totally unprepared for his death. I found a radio station playing all of his music and I sat in the kitchen all day and listened and sang along. Why on earth was I so moved by a pop-star’s death? Because so much of my life had been accompanied by his music. Because he had been theatre and a legend for me.

Then two days later Alan Rickman, the actor, died. Another shock. Another person whom I admired and watched avidly. That voice, that intonation, that humour. I seldom cry at movies but I did at Truly, Madly, Deeply. And his death seemed like the final nail. Too much death. Too much shock and loss.

It has been a sad year so far. Yes I know each one will live on in my memories. I will never forget G and M and B. We will keep on telling their stories. And Bowie will continue to be yelled (I won’t say ‘sung’) along to in my car and whenever I hear him. I might even make a Spotify list of my favourites. And I think I may watch all of Alan Rickman’s performances again and laugh at his Slope or Snape. Dead but not forgotten.

In which Ruth ponders her obituary

No, I’m not dead yet. Not even ill. A bit of catarrh but nothing a dozen pills a day won’t help. However, after that wonderful talk on Dying Well I’ve been pondering matters funereal and eulogies and obituaries.

I came across this one on Twitter yesterday which made me laugh and laugh. I really want to do something similar for me. Planning it now… In the meantime, here’s Walt’s:

Walter George Bruhl Jr. of Newark and Dewey Beach is a dead person; he is no more; he is bereft of life; he is deceased; he has rung down the curtain and gone to join the choir invisible; he has expired and gone to meet his maker.

He drifted off this mortal coil Sunday, March 9, 2014, in Punta Gorda, Fla. His spirit was released from his worn-out shell of a body and is now exploring the universe.

He was surrounded by his loving wife of 57 years, Helene Sellers Bruhl, who will now be able to purchase the mink coat which he had always refused her because he believed only minks should wear mink. He is also survived by his son Walter III and wife Melissa; daughters Carly and Paige, and son Martin and wife Debra; son Sam and daughter Kalla. Walt loved and enjoyed his grandkids.

Walt was preceded in death by his tonsils and adenoids in 1935; a spinal disc in 1974; a large piece of his thyroid gland in 1988; and his prostate on March 27, 2000.

He was born in Philadelphia, Pa., April 20,1933 at 10:38 p.m., and weighed in at a healthy seven pounds, four ounces, and was 22 inches long, to Blanche Buckman Bruhl and Walter George Bruhl.

He drifted through the Philadelphia Public School System from 1937 through 1951, graduating, to his mother’s great relief, from John Bartram High School in June 1951.

Walter was a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War, having served from October 1951 to September 1954, with overseas duty in Japan from June 1953 till August 1954. He attained the rank of sergeant. He chose this path because of Hollywood propaganda, to which he succumbed as a child during World War II, and his cousin Ella, who joined the corps in 1943.

He served an electronics apprenticeship at the Philadelphia Naval Yard from 1956-61; operated Atlantic Automotive Service Stations in Wilmington during 1961-62; and was employed by the late great DuPont Co. from 1962-93. (Very few people who knew him would say he worked for DuPont, and he always claimed he had only been been hired to fill a position.)

He started at the Chestnut Run Site as a flunky in the weave area of the Textile Fibers Department, and then was promoted to research assistant, where he stayed from 1963-72. In 1972 he accepted a position as an equipment service representative with the Photo Products Department at the old DuPont Airport site (now Barley Mill Plaza).

In 1973 he was promoted to manufacturing engineering technologist and was employed in that capacity until, after 31 years with The Co., he was given a fine anniversary dinner and a token gift and then “downsized” in December 1993. He was rehired as a contract employee in June 1994, doing the same job that he had been “downsized” from, and stayed until July 1995.

He started his own contract business and worked at Litho Tech Ltd. from 1996-99.

There will be no viewing since his wife refuses to honor his request to have him standing in the corner of the room with a glass of Jack Daniels in his hand so he would appear natural to visitors.

Cremation will take place at the family’s convenience, and his ashes will be kept in an urn purple-urn-for-ashes1-200x200until they get tired of having it around. What’s a Grecian Urn? Oh, about 200 drachmas a week.

Everyone who remembers him is asked to celebrate Walt’s life in their own way; raising a glass of their favorite drink in his memory would be quite appropriate.

Instead of flowers, Walt would hope that you will do an unexpected and unsolicited act of kindness for some poor unfortunate soul in his name.

A memorial luncheon in Walt’s honor will be held Saturday, March 15, at 1 p.m., at Deerfield, Newark.

In which Ruth meets a Rabbi and ponders Dying Well

Yesterday I sat with hundreds of others in a rather posh function room in the old Roxburghe Hotel listening to Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger talk about Dying Well. What a wonderful speaker she is – funny, passionate, knowledgeable, direct and above all, Jewish. Using no notes that I could see, she entertained us for 45 minutes on her favourite topic: Dying Well and why it Matters as our annual Malcolm Goldsmith Lecture. (Malcolm was a priest in our diocese who also had a penchant for working with the elderly and those with dementia, who died a few years ago.)

I took some notes which I will transcribe here but they really are brief, but I hear that her talk was recorded so may be available on line at some point in the future.

  • How you remember someone is coloured by their death – and it matters whether that was good or not.
  • Dying well matters for the person and for those who mourn.
  • Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying) became popular in the 15th century and by the 18th century coincided with the use of laudanum.  (In Art shown as family standing around the deathbed in serried ranks as the person lay still on the bed. No thrashing about. Laudanam brings a peaceful, still death.)
  • By the 19th century death is talked about, perhaps sentimentally, but is not so scary.
  • WW1 changes things. Begin to hear euphemisms (pop your clogs, hop the twig) as people don’t want to face up to all those young men dying in the war and with the flu pandemic.
  • Mary Aikenhead, Sisters of Charity, began what we now call the Hospice movement working with those dying of the plague.
  • Modern hospice movement begun by Dame Cicely Saunders for cancer sufferers.
  • Today under 5% of people die in a hospice, yet hospitals don’t think they are places where people should die – they are places to get well – so don’t spend money or resources on making them good places to die.
  • Liverpool Pathway comes in to place.
  • Today 25% die of cancer, 75% of other diseases. Hospices designed for cancer sufferers but now need to specialise in those 75% who don’t need the same treatment – and it can be a very different death.
  • We need death education.
  • Some faiths and countries have it right – Irish wakes, Jewish, Sikh and Muslims who all visit the bereaved, talk about the dead and eat food. We cross over on the other side of the road because we don’t know what to say to the grieving.
  • All people should have an Advanced Directive / Living Will. It should be reviewed regularly and talked about with your family, along with issues such as Power of Attorney.
  • Things to think about for your death: who do we want there (or not!); where it should be; what level of pain control; what we want to do beforehand; do we want food and drink; do we want religious support; do we want our neighbours/friends there.
  • Things to discuss with medical staff: to know when its coming; what to expect; control over where it will be; control over pain relief; access to hospice; who with you; time to say goodbye; to be able to go when it is right and not have it prolonged.

These last 2 lists are not complete but I couldn’t get it all written down.

As regular readers of this blog will know I am a great advocate of Preparing Your Own Funeral and even designed a form to give out to people to do just that. I’m endlessly banging on about it so it was great to hear someone taking that further. I have since reaped the rewards of that when I have been involved in three funerals where it was used and made such a difference. Why not make that your Lent action? Your family will thank you for it.

Ars_moriendi_(Meister_E.S.),_L.179

 

 

 

In which Ruth goes to the hospice and talks end times

On Saturday I went to visit Mother Mary Pat at Strathcarron Hospice. Immediately when you walk through the doors you know this is a happy place. That might seem strange, for a place to be full of death but also to be happy. But sometimes hospices get it right. The first thing you notice is how friendly the staff are. Nurses, auxiliaries, clerical staff all look up and say Good morning or Hello, break off their conversations to smile and acknowledge your presence. Compare that to our local hospital where nobody answers the ward bell for ages and when they do let you in they scurry off before you can ask a question.

Mother Mary Pat is a local darling. She and her husband Jay led an exciting and full life before settling in Falkirk. I think she was one of the first women ordained, previously being a Deaconess and then Deacon. Jay was also a priest and died a number of years ago. They were assistants at Grangemouth and Bo’ness for many years and loved by all. Mother Mary Pat has been ill for some time and it has been my joy and delight to visit and take communion to her. She in turn gives me wise counsel and advice. It was only a few weeks ago that we were planning a Lent Group made up of questions people want to ask but are afraid to (not unlike Kelvin’s God Factor). We’ll save it for next year now.

A couple of weeks ago I had a phone call to say that Mother Mary Pat was in hospital and approaching death. I rushed up with anointing oil and said prayers as she lay unconscious. Her daughter and son were by her side, having travelled up from England. As she was in her nineties we had discussed death before and she was ready to go. Of course it was sad for the family, it always is, but there was also a sense of a life-well-lived. Phone calls were made, prayers were asked for, plans put in place, and we waited for news. The following morning I hadn’t heard anything so I phoned the hospital to be told that Mother Mary Pat was eating porridge. “You must have the wrong person,” I said. “She was close to death yesterday.” But prayer works like that sometimes. Sometimes the time is not right.

So over the past couple of weeks Mary Pat’s family have gathered around her to say goodbye. They’ve come from far and near: children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and friends. Gradually she has improved a little, still unable to walk and very weak and tired, but day by day she has brightened a little. “Why am I still here, Ruth?” she’d ask. “I’m ready to go but there must be something I’m meant to do first. What can it be?” And we have prayed.

Last week she was was moved to the hospice and with some lovely food and home-baking she improved even more. Her hair was done and really she looked the best I’ve seen her for a long while. Too good for the hospice, in fact, and now the family are talking about taking her south so it may have been our last visit. “Perhaps I’ve to help someone here,” she mused. “Perhaps that’s why God sent me here.” Always looking to care for another.

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So this Lent I’ve begun by thinking about trust. About trust in God and that our time is not always God’s time. I’ve had time to reflect on families and how important they are and how we must make time, even when we’re so busy, to spend time with those we love. Having time to listen to stories is always a bonus. So while some give up things in Lent, and others take things on, sometimes it is best just to do nothing, to take time while we have it, and to just be.

And say a prayer for Mary Pat for the rest of her journey.

RIP Liverpool Care Pathway

There has been much talk of the Liverpool Care Pathway on the news this week. It looks as if it may come to an end and I, for one, say hurrah. When I first heard about it I thought it was a great idea. Using the Hospice model people should be allowed to die with dignity, surrounded by family rather than machines. However it didn’t always work out that way.

I know of one woman who found out that her husband had been marked down as DNR without any conversation with her. Perhaps they did speak to her husband but as he had dementia he might have said anything. She was deeply upset and not ready to let him go.

I know my own mother’s death (in a hospice) was just awful. Not a happy death at all. But as I’ve spoken about this elsewhere on this blog I won’t go into it again.

However, this week something reminded me of an occasion, not so long ago, when I was visiting one of my old folk in hospital. She had been going downhill and as I sat there I recognised that it would not be long before she died. I knew she had no family or anyone to be with her so I asked a nurse what the doctors were saying and was she likely to go soon. Firstly the nurse said she couldn’t discuss the patient with me because I was not ‘family’ but after much persuasion (and I mean much) she did agree that she possibly might die soon. “How soon?” I asked. Because I’d thought I’d like to sit and be with her so that she wasn’t on her own.  It was then that the nurse started telling me about the Liverpool Care Pathway. I told her I did know about it, having been a p/t hospital chaplain. “Well,” she retorted, “we will be taking care of her.”  I mentioned that there was also a ‘spiritual’ part to the LCP and I would like to help in that part. “Oh that’s not about religion!” she said, “Spiritual is all about her having clean clothes and nice things about her.”

I don’t think I had anything to say to that. Somewhere along the way, in a teaching class, or on a busy ward, this nurse had been taught the LCP. In all possibility she was taught by someone with no religion, or even someone who was hostile to it. I’m not saying that having a clean nightie and brushed hair is not part of your spiritual needs but it certainly isn’t all of it. I had been bringing communion to this woman for months and we had talked often about her imminent death.

Perhaps this is partly why the LCP is not working. Perhaps ignorance, hostility, or embarrassment is why some hospital staff just don’t know how to talk about end of life things in a religious context. Or maybe it was just this one nurse. All I do know is that there needs to be more communication, and especially listening.

PS And yes she did die that night on her own. If they’d phoned I would have gone.

PPS I love nurses.

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Prayer for Sandy Hook School, Newtown

Loving God,pieta
as our tears fall

and the world watches with horror

and mothers’ arms lie empty,

we pray for your children who have died.

We pray for all who lost their lives

in Sandy Hook School

and for all who mourn them.

Keep watch, dear Lord,

with whose who work or watch or weep this night,

and give your angels charge over those who sleep.

Amen

 

 

 

 

Befriending Death

When I was in Windsor I picked up a copy of Canon Dr James Woodward’s little book Befriending Death which I read on the plane home and finished yesterday. (Reading such a book on a plane is always good for preventing unwanted conversations.)

As readers may know, I am a great believer in preparing your own funeral. There are many people who have been on one of my sessions and gone home to discuss the finer points of funeral music with their loved ones. (So far I personally have about 10 funeral hymns so we’re going to be there for some time.) But there is nothing finer for a harrassed parish priest to find that the deceased gave their funeral some forethought and actually left instructions. This prevents the poor family (often unchurched) opting for All Things Bright and Beautiful because that’s the only hymn they know.

I can see that this book could be used in conjunction with my Funeral Prep evening and perhaps make a course for each chapter ends in discussion questions. The book is addressed to those who care for the sick and dying, those who are close to death themselves, and to others. As someone who has sat with those who are dying I found it invaluable. It was easy to read and the questions really stimulating.

There is lots of practical help too, including preparing your own funeral, and how to register a death, and organisations who can help. There is also an article on journaling and some prayers and readings too which may come in useful.

Highly recommended.

 

Death and assisted dying

Death is all around me at the moment. It is in our daily readings in the Offices. It is in the tears of the recently bereaved who read them with me. It is in the watching and waiting as a beloved mother dies. It is in the memories of those who find this time of year difficult because of an anniversary or the first Christmas without them. It is in the oil to anoint a chilled brow. It is in the bleak chill of the cemetary that I can’t reach. Death is all around.

This morning I have been thinking about how to achieve a happy death. We can’t all choose that we will have a happy death. And if we were just to spend some time thinking about how that might be, what would you want? At the end of a good and satisfying life, in peaceful surroundings, with no pain? That is an ideal that not many can achieve. But when it does we can give thanks.

Reading James Woodward’s blog this morning has made me think about my mum’s death. It was not a happy death. It was in a hospice which should have meant that all was done to make it a ‘good death’. That didn’t happen. On her first visit (to get medication sorted) a nurse was impatient with her when she needed the toilet. To mum she seemed brusque and impatient and made her wait for a long time in desperation. She was rude and she shouted at mum. Of course we don’t know what was going on elsewhere in the ward at that time, and why that particular nurse seemed uncaring. Nor would they know that when my mum needed ‘to go’ there was no hanging about. But somehow this episode became a huge issue for mum. It may be that it became the focus for all her fears about dying, but nobody ever took time to listen to her to find out. She couldn’t wait to get home.

She did get home after a few days to stay with my sister. There she was cared for day and night by C with visiting health care workers coming in daily who got to know her well and who listened. She wanted to die there. She was adamant that she didn’t want to go back to that hospice. But then she collapsed and my sister couldn’t get her up off the floor. For that, and other reasons, the decision was made that she should go into the hospice. I was part of that decision and we all felt it was for the best. I went in the ambulance with mum and it was then that she turned her face to the wall. She didn’t want to go and made it clear that she was unhappy. So unhappy, in fact, that she didn’t speak again for a week until she died. We visited daily and tried to chivvy her along but she remained facing the wall (literally, as her bed was against a wall). The doctors said she was suffering from depression and they would give her medication for that but that it would take time to work. Time she didn’t have.

For weeks before she had been asking to die. She begged doctors and health visitors to give her something to speed the process. She wasn’t in pain but she knew that it was only a matter of time and she didn’t want to prolong it, for her sake and ours. She knew that daily visiting and caring was taking its toll on us all. (We didn’t mind, of course, but we knew she did. She never wanted to be a burden.) In the hospice we knew she only had days to live and when she wouldn’t speak to us, we were told that the only thing she said to doctors was that she wanted to die. There was nothing they could do. She has signed a Living Will but in these circumstances it wasn’t much good.

Nearly five years later I can still remember that last week clearly. It was not a happy death. It was a smelly, silent, and prolonged death. The hospice didn’t burden us with the information that her wound was infected and that she probably had MRSA or some other infection. We only knew when the ward was closed after her death and her belongings destroyed.

And we are left with the knowledge that it needn’t have been like that. I believe mum could have had a happy death. She could have had a happy death at home if the correct care was in place to help people care for their relatives there. And this appears to be a postcode lottery as I hear and have seen Macmillan nurses doing all they can to create such an atmosphere, but they are not available everywhere. She could have had a happy death if a nurse had been more sympathetic over something as basic as bringing a commode sooner. She could have had a happy death if a doctor had been willing to give her something which would have allowed her to bring her death forward by a few days.

I’ve heard speakers from the Church resist assisted dying. I don’t understand it. We know and believe they are going to a better place. I visited someone two days ago who was allowed home from hospital to die. It was peaceful, quiet, spiritual, warm and, in the end, a happy death. It is something that I pray for without fail – that we should all have such a happy death.