Thought for the day: a schoolfriend’s untimely death highlights the importance of choice to our dying day

A dear schoolfriend of mine, Sara, will be laid to rest today.

We found each other on Facebook three years ago after a 30 year hiatus. I enjoyed our mutual ‘likes’ of one another’s quirky musings, the various photographs of holidays and birthdays, and the occasional sharing of news about our respective families.  I had forgotten how funny she was. Our re-connection was a small happening. But it was one that brought great pleasure to me.

So I was touched that Sara’s husband included me in a message to friends and family describing her last days with her family. It was beautifully written. Warm, loving, peaceful. It sounded as though the hospice that Sara was cared in had been wonderful with both her and her family.

Naturally, I have thought about this a fair bit in the last ten days. These things do make you contemplative. Just for a while it feels as though the moorings that tie you to the shore have become a little bit looser. Plus there is much political debate about death and dying at the moment isn’t there?

If truth be told I don’t feel ready to step into that arena. Not today anyway. But I do believe in choice. That the respect and recognition of what might seem to you and I small things has great significance. And I know that many people are denied these life-affirming choices in their final months and weeks. Choices that would make life more comfortable for them and less distressing for their loved-ones. This is one of the many reports written on the matter by the excellent Marie Cure charity which is trying to change things in the favour of people with a terminal illness.

More research is desperately needed and I thought that you may be interested to read the results of this National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) study which came out today. It shows people in the North get the least amount of end-of-life hospice care (35 days) compared to people in the South (55 days).  The principal reason would seem to be that people are referred too late by GPs and other health professionals. Here’s the BBC report on the study.  And if you want to follow progress with another NIHR funded study in the field then please do follow the Optimum Hospice at Home project on Twitter at #opelstudy.

Elsewhere I am delighted that the Academy of Medical Sciences is tentatively turning its mind to the subject of dying.  It has announced that it will be running a public engagement project this year which will allow people to explore their attitudes to death and dying. It’s only just got started so if you want to know more or feel you have something to contribute, here’s a news piece about it with the Academy’s contact details. 

This morning I wondered whether it was appropriate or not for me to write a blog based around Sara’s untimely death. But then I remembered something she wrote on Facebook a little while ago. She wrote ‘I seem to remember you always were a bit of a firebrand.’ And I can see her now, as a young girl, raising her eyebrows and smiling as she said it. She would have expected no less of me.

I know, me(!), a firebrand. Would you believe it?

Farewell Sara.

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