Death – is there really such a thing as a good death?

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Over the past, dare I say nearly, 30 years of my working in care, either as a nurse or as a carer I have seen death, I have smelt death and I have heard it.

I have witnessed it appear out of nowhere, I have seen it watch and turn away. That one thing we all have in common…

But is there such a thing as a good death? Yes, she says without a shadow of a doubt. Unfortunately, we are not all afforded such a fate. I have like many professionals seen too many of those traumatic deaths, the ones that haunt us when we close our eyes. The ones where families couldn’t say goodbye and the ones where people passed alone, and yes there are times when people choose to do so. The ones that were taken just too soon.

2018 was one of “those years” in my family, I’m sure we’ve all had one. One of those years when everything around you seems to be falling apart and everything seems like an uphill struggle. 2018 brought death to my family, the death of my Mom. Mom had been ill in one way or another most of my life so her death didn’t really come as a surprise, but it did come suddenly.

In a year where “change” would probably be the best word I would use to describe it, I had the privilege of nursing and caring for my Mom until the point where she had passed and her body went on its final journey.

Over the years there had been many occasions where I had provided some level of care to Mom but over the couple of months leading to her death, my intervention increased. Mom had been clear in her wishes and as a family, where possible, we intended to ensure that they were met and this we did.

Along with my father, her main carer for the 40 years of ill health struggles we tended to her physical care needs. District nurses supported with guidance and end of life medication administration along with her GPs.

She spent her final days in her own room, listening to the music that she loved, wearing her favourite perfume Femme, and surrounded by those she loved. We laughed, cried, smiled, sang and just sat quietly waiting for death to come, making the most out of every last minute we had. The conversations that you always wished you’d had, were spoken and wise words shared.

As a nurse I found myself being able to assert clearly when Mom needed more pain relief and explain to the professionals involved what we saw in Moms symptom’s so that they could effectively support her. We were strangely proactive and let the undertakers know that Moms body would be moving into their care at some point. Possible quite a dark thing to do, but it meant that we could take our time with her and not panic afterwards. She passed away peacefully with her nearest and dearest sitting closely around her bed, with classic FM playing and the sun shining. We wished her well and gave her the permission she needed to leave, along with asking if she could sort out the direction of Brexit, and a possible lottery win! We took our time calling the District nurses and they supported me to do last offices. When the time came, my brother and I walked next to her from her home to her awaiting carriage.

Mom passed away with her symptoms being controlled the best they could have been, and without a mark on her body, surrounded by love, and in her own home. She even wore her favourite perfume which has left a comforting presence whenever it may drift past my nose.

My grief and the huge sense of loss that we have felt as a family has been helped by knowing that Mom had a good death, and yes when the stars align as they don’t always do, it can be achieved.