It’s been said that death is the last taboo and certainly in our heavily medicalised approach to dying we seem to have lost some of our skills for dealing with the end if life.
How many people have seen a dead body, how many people have been with someone who is in the last few days of life?
It may be that it’s only when someone very close to us approaches death that we have those experiences, often for the very first time.
I would hope that when I am in the last few months of life I have the support of a palliative doctor (or “deathwife”),such as Kathryn Mannix. She spent her days with the terminally ill and their families, witnessing and supporting them at times of intense suffering, terror and loss. About a quarter of deaths are sudden and unexpected, but she saw the ones that come slowly, over months or years, and while much of her work was diagnostic and medical, one of her crucial tasks was to help those who are dying and their families find ways of dealing with life’s final, great event.
Mannix has recently retired and her book from 2018, With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial is a treasure trove of stories about the end of life for a great variety of people, men and woman young and old. Mannix tells their stories with compassion and love. She talks about the different strategies she uses to help people make the right choices for them in their as they approach death and in doing so points us in the direction of the decisions we may need to make.
She never judges and is clear that people make many different choices, but she wants people to have the support to make choices so that there death be as good as they wish it to be.
The book is compulsive, I couldn’t put it down, I cried and I laughed with the people she worked with. I recommend it to anyone of any age and by recommending it to other family members it’s a good way to start those very difficult discussions about your last wishes.
Visit her website for more information.