Are you in a good place to die?


Death, dying and bereavement are conversations most people shy away from but making plans and talking to our loved ones about our end-of-life wishes, are what help to ensure we are in a good place when we die.

This year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week (10-16 May) is focusing on the importance of being in a good place to die, and with the Covid-19 pandemic having changed so much about our lives – in particular where we choose to die – this is more relevant than ever.

At Saint Francis Hospice, the staff’s holistic approach means they look after every aspect of a person’s well-being. This includes their physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and practical well-being – everything that is important to a person and their loved ones who are under their care.

They have released a video which explores the question, which you can see below:

Tina’s story

In 2018 Maisie Burke was cared for by the Hospice at Home team before she died peacefully at home with her family by her side.

Her loving daughter Tina has written an emotional blog in which she tells us how the Hospice was there to help her Mum die in peace and comfort and how their experienced teams were there to support her grieving family as they came to terms with their loss.

After Dad suffered a second unexpected stroke and was taken to hospital, we borrowed a bed and popped it into our dining room. Mum, who had become disabled 18 months earlier, also came to live with us. When Dad sadly passed away 5 days later, Mum was in shock, as we all were. She was very weak and we were afraid we would lose her too. In fact, each morning upon waking, we were afraid to walk downstairs in case she had passed away overnight.

Fortunately, mum lived with us for 7 years after we lost dad. Over time we began to notice little changes in mum’s health, but nothing we could put our finger on to tell the doctor. In November 2017, mum became unwell. We treated her at home, but when her temperature became very high, she was admitted to Queen’s Hospital from our doctor’s surgery.

After a great deal of tests and many stays in hospital, doctors discovered she had a blockage in the common bile duct which was cancer. We then knew time with mum was short. Mum spent a lovely last Christmas with her family around her. She was surprisingly well and thoroughly enjoyed herself.

We had been referred to Saint Francis Hospice and had an initial visit by one of the team who spoke with me about the service the Hospice offers. She explained we could book a bed for mum for when the time came or she could say at home with the help of the Hospice at Home team. We were also told about the community teams who were there to support mum and our family.

Mum would be able to go up to the Hospice and participate in all sorts of crafting classes. This would enable her to get to know the Hospice so when the time came for her to be admitted, she would not be afraid of being somewhere she didn’t know. With mum having vascular dementia, this was especially crucial for us. Mum was able to take advantage of silk scarf printing, which I accompanied her too, and she loved it. We went for a cuppa after in the canteen and the staff and volunteers were so very warm and welcoming.

We were only able to make one scarf. Mum became poorly and my wonderful carer Carole and I knew this was the beginning of the end. We hugged each other, shed a few tears, called the doctor and began mum’s last journey.

Sadly, mum became very unwell and moving her to the Hospice was out of the question. Carole, myself, my husband David and our children Lucy, Alfie and niece Mary set about looking after Mum in the best way we knew how – with love, laughter and compassion. However, you never know if you are going about it in the right way.

The Hospice at Home team were magnificent, reassuring, caring and above all, offering respite in our home, always in the knowledge mum was safe and secure.

When the nurses arrived to care for mum, it was like an angel had descended.

They were so calm, confident and caring – they offered us respite in our home, allowing us to rest in the knowledge mum was in safe hands and well cared for.

I remember, over the Easter weekend, Mum ran out of medication at one point – it was harrowing to see her in pain but the nurses managed to sort everything out.

Their presence made us feel secure, offering reassurance and comfort that we were doing the right thing and looking after her properly.

My mum had a peaceful death – she just went to sleep.

We were initially concerned about how we would feel afterwards if Mum passed away at home, but Mum went downhill very quickly and she could not be moved so I know it was meant to be.

And now when I go into Mum’s room, I feel comforted, I feel as though Mum has put her arms around me and has given me a hug.

I attended the Hospice’s Light a Life celebration at Brentwood Cathedral in December and listening to one of the bereavement counsellors speak opened my suppressed feelings and I sobbed uncontrollably through the service. This out pouring of emotion gave me the push I needed to seek help.

I had a great connection with my counsellor and had 12 sessions in all. It was amazing – Sometimes you have just got to get over that hump and release those feelings.

I thought I was coping well and moving forward but I had suppressed my feeling and got stuck on a particular part of the grief wheel. Talking it through and identifying triggers, helped me come to terms with it and allowed me to deal with those suppressed feelings at a gentle and controlled pace.

There is so much help for us all but for some reason we find it difficult to seek or accept. Looking back at accepting help, putting things in place, making sure she was well cared for, gave us and Mum peace of mind and in the end my gentle, unconditionally loving Mum, died a peaceful dignified death.

Don’t be afraid to seek and accept guidance.

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Saint Francis Hospice is a registered charity that employs 150 nurses, doctors and specialist healthcare staff who are supported by 800 volunteers. Together they provide care and help to more than 4,000 people across the boroughs of Havering, Barking & Dagenham, Redbridge and Brentwood. Saint Francis Hospice provides all of its services free of charge to support patients from our local community with any life-limiting illness including cancer, heart, lung or motor neurone disease.

For more information, please visit www.sfh.org.uk

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