Fallon Scaife, 3rd year student nurse
At the age of 18 I started my first care job in a residential home for the over 65’s. I must admit that I did not know what I was getting myself into or have the first idea of what lay waiting for me beyond those doors. As I got to grips with the job and learnt more about caring for people I started to realise that I really enjoyed the work that I was doing. After a few weeks I came on shift one night to be told that a resident who everyone really liked was dying and I suddenly realised that this was one part of the job that I had not even thought about before now. Once all the other residents were settled for the night I went to sit with the gentleman who was dying and held his hand. Even though he did not respond to me in any way I felt that he was aware of my presence and had become more peaceful because of it. I spoke to him and reassured him that I was there for him. Throughout my shift I sat with the gentleman as much as I could in between my care rounds and talked to him. When he passed away in the early hours of the morning I felt that his death had been a peaceful one. Since this experience I have been with many people during their last hours of life and this is what brought me to nursing. I like to be able to help people at the end of their lives and make their last hours as comfortable as possible.
When I heard about the death café at University I felt that I wanted to be involved with this and I found it a fantastic and challenging experience. I found myself able to offer comfort to people that had experienced a recent bereavement as I had experienced this myself in recent months but I found it a challenge when I was approached by someone with a life limiting condition. Hearing the individual speak so openly about death and what they wanted to happen after their death was difficult but it made me realise that this is why we were holding this event. Not everyone is prepared to talk about death and dying whether it is their own or someone elses. This event was to erase the stigma surrounding death in the UK and speaking to this individual gave me hope that this was a sign of things to come. I know it gave me the courage to speak about my wishes and to start putting things in place for when the time comes. I have also been able to speak about and deal with my recent personal experience because even though I have been with so many people when they have passed away it was a totally different experience for me when someone I was close to passed away.
Kim Selby – Second year student nurse
My name is Kim, I am a second year Adult Nurse student and I live with a chronic illness. Five years ago following years of chronic stomach pains and several episodes of acute pancreatitis. I decided to have a procedure called an ERCP which looks at the bile ducts and pancreas. This procedure should have meant that I was in and out of the hospital within the day. Shortly after the procedure it became apparent that things hadn’t gone to plan and I was suffering with acute pancreatitis and my organs had started to fail. I am still unable to remember the days that followed, my family received the phone call to say that they should make the journey to the hospital and prepare for the worst. My husband and I had not had any discussions around what if or what we wanted if the worst ever happened to either of us. Laying in the hospital bed and wishing that the pain would go away and wanting the toil of the interventions to stop. Laying their and wishing my life away I suddenly became aware of the importance of those conversations. I can now say that we have had the conversation. Although it isn’t set in stone as our opinions and wishes change, we both know what each other does and does not want. I have always encouraged my children to discuss any questions they have about death, they have experienced death of their pets, friends and family members. My answers have always been honest and I feel that this has helped them to be accepting about the topic.
So my reasons for partaking in the group began with my own experience of laying on my death bed and not been prepared. Since then I have lost several people close to me, some of which we were able to plan for and these deaths I have been able to come to terms with more easily. Working on ICU allowed me to become involved in a bereavement group. The group met regularly with family and friends of those people who had died on the unit. Discussing their lives and deaths seemed to help them come to terms with their loss. Seeing how the meetings helped these people gave me the understanding of how helpful preparing for death is. On my second placement I was fortunate to hold a ladies hand whilst she passed away, unfortunately her family did not arrive in time. I felt privileged to be there and to offer comfort to the lady and her family. Her family were very upset that she had died before they arrived but at the same time they thanked me for been there.
I do believe that people should be able to die with dignity and someone there with them. I understand that this is not always possible but feel that by talking more about death, it will become more acceptable and less taboo. People prepare for the birth of a baby why shouldn’t we prepare for the death of someone? Although last year I was only able to write a blog and linger in the background, I am hoping to be more involved this year.
Roz Roberts, Hospice Volunteer
Death – the elephant in the room? How do you eat an elephant? In bite sized chunks. Often we only recognise the elephant when we are forced by circumstances to confront what it means to us.
If we can approach death, & dying gently & over time, & with others, we can unwrap it into its parts; (fear, grief, compassion, love, separation & loss), & we can see that death is a part of life – the ever present cycle of change. May be then the elephant is not death, but our fears; of change & loss, our wanting things to stay the same, our concerns about & for loved ones, & the difficult prospect of pain, loss of dignity, losing our abilities as we age or progress through illness or disease.
This year my younger sister died, followed shortly by my frail elderly mother. Both events were anticipated – just the timing was uncertain. It has been both enriching & draining, emotionally & physically; a time of deep human connection, of being supported, a sharing of a universal human experience.
And it convinced me that approaching & befriending death, ageing, & change, as a part of everyday life – before events force us to – enriches life & how we live it, how we share it, & how we relate to others. Sometimes the hardest part is finding the opportunity, the space, & the courage to start this exploring & sharing. And doing it in bite sized chunks.
A death cafe is a great place to start.
Kate Palmer, 3rd year student mental health nurse
I know and understand that death is part of life. It’s been part of my life since my Dad died when I was 14. Through coming to terms with and accepting personal loss, I feel I have something I may offer to others.
I know there isn’t a script I can follow when talking with someone about death and dying. But I can listen, try to understand and be with the person. I can be human, real and myself.
As a Mental Health Nursing student, I consider it a privilege to help people through difficult times. It’s in the small acts of kindness we can connect; a smile, a cuppa, a nod, a little well timed humour…
I became involved with The Death Café to contribute to the conversation about death. And life. With anybody who wanted to talk. To remove the stigma. To dispel the myth that it’s morbid to talk about death’s inevitability. I liked the idea of sitting with a coffee, eating cake and talking about the real, messy stuff of feelings.
The conversations were so different; filled with memories of characters and stories. Yet, the feeling I remember from the Death Café was a sense of relief. People want to talk about death and dying. Even though it can be hard to start, once the conversation flows, it helps. And if it helps, maybe it can heal too.