My morning reflections on end of life planning

I lay in bed this morning, reading the morning news on my phone. Dame Esther Rantzen’s brave decision to join Dignitas echoed in my thoughts. She has clearly been thinking about her end of life planning. She has Stage 4 lung cancer and is contemplating taking back some control over the way she might die.  I for one admire her for choosing to share her deeply personal journey with the world.

Planning ahead

End of life planning and thinking about ones own death isn’t always easy.  Only a week ago, my patient and participation group were talking about assisted dying and whether or not we would go to Dignitas at our local pub (as you do!). I have no recollection how we got onto that topic.  But I do remember one of the doctors saying that a local woman chose to go to Dignitas and her family recollect how peaceful she looked to finally be there and for taking some control back.  Talking about assisted dying is one thing, but that aside, talking about death and planning for ones death is so important.

It is such a difficult topic of conversation for many to have though.  As I write this, I have a little chuckle to myself, as I subjected my partner to this conversation as he awoke this morning.  What a lucky guy, he is, to start his day with my musings! 😊 He had no idea what he was getting into, those 18 years ago when he struck up a relationship with a nurse (me, if you are wondering).  However, such conversations can be empowering and the subject of death needs acknowledging.

I am sure we can all think of those times when someone close to us died and we didn’t know what their wishes were, and instead we hoped we made the best decisions on their behalf.  It we talk, in advance, we can know for sure we get things right.

Taking a moment to think

I finally get my act together and step into my office.  One of the first things I see in my inbox is a newsletter from the Good Grief Festival. It gently reminded me that the festive season isn’t merry for everyone, especially those grappling with grief. Some mourn the past, while others anticipate loss on the horizon. Dame Esther’s daughter, on TV, spoke of creating special Christmas memories for her family, acknowledging the precious time they have left. It made me pause.  She spoke so eloquently and whilst she didn’t necessarily agree with her mum’s wishes, she respected her mum for them.  I can only imagine how many deep and meaningful conversations they have been having as a family.

I have to be honest.  The holiday season isn’t my favourite. It’s a time when memories of lost loved ones and my years in cancer nursing intertwine. It is a contemplative time. I remember at this time of the year, Lorraine, my deputy lead nurse, and I stealing a moment in the office, shedding a tear over the weight of our experiences, only to compose ourselves and face the clinical world again, smiles firmly in place. I wonder, how many healthcare professionals share this unspoken ritual?

So, where does all this lead me? I guess I want to say:

Talking is a gift. It serves as a bridge between hearts, fostering understanding and connection.

Expressing emotions is a source of strength: Sharing vulnerabilities is an act of strength.

Planning provides a measure of control: Addressing the inevitability of death removes uncertainties and doubts, offering a sense of empowerment.

Taking a moment of reflection is empowering: ,Being kind to oneself and finding moments of joy amid life’s complexities contribute to personal well-being.

In the grand tapestry of life, these conversations, reflections, and moments of vulnerability weave a rich narrative. So here’s to more talking, more sharing, and more empowering reflections. May we all find our smiles in the midst of life’s complexities.


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