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Blog: Strategy for a life-affirming death

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'Bereavement is a less tortuous and negative affair if dying involves highly personalised care, spectacular symptom control and a spirit of friendship and love'

The Department of Health’s End of Life Strategy arrived on the 16th July for all to read, discuss, contemplate and reflect upon. It comes with some cash and good will. We all want to die well and in the way we wish. The public tell us again and again that if given the option they would prefer their dying and ultimate death to take place in the comfort of their own bed. And without getting too depressed about this thing called death I have often chatted with my good friends on what music we would like to hear shortly before our time is up.

In recent months I listened, for the first time, to an exquisite song, The Joy of Living, beautifully sung by Ewan MacColl and thought how lovely it would be for me, my family and my friends to have this music playing as I die.

When I compose the arrangements for my funeral, this could well be the sound which sends me off. There is something very poignant about dealing with the loss of a much loved friend, relative or partner while still strongly holding onto the notion that, at its most simple, there is a joy in living.

But, there is another reason to die well, and that is because there are benefits for the folk left behind, who initially may not feel that there is a joy in living. Yes, there is a body of literature which backs up the suggestion that bereavement is a less tortuous and negative affair if the process of dying involves highly personalised care, spectacular symptom control and a spirit of friendship and love. And all these things are possible and indeed take place every day through well-supported district nursing teams and Macmillan and Marie Curie nurses.

So, while we must all welcome and commit ourselves to the successful implementation of the End of Life Strategy, it is important to acknowledge the wonderful services which are already being provided to people who have chosen to die at home. Currently a very dear family friend, aged a mere 50 years, is dying and thankfully receiving the most fabulous care from the local hospice medical consultant.

He has visited her at home to talk her through the pain of leaving a teenage son and many loved friends behind. Miraculously, this highly-skilled and compassionate doctor has ensured that our dear friend is gently but surely coming to terms with her impending death, allowing her to put things in order in her own special way. When the time comes we anticipate that expert and caring nurses will be on hand to ensure support, effective symptom control, wonderful nursing and comfort.

But, let’s end this week’s chat in a spirit of hope and optimism. And in the meantime dearest reqaders, whether the choice of your music is Led Zepplin, Amy Winehouse, Mozart or Wagner, I wish you all to get drunk on the thrill and joy of living.

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