Dying Matters - Lets talk about it!


May 08 – 14 is National Dying Matters Awareness Week, and as part of a drive to encourage conversation about this difficult topic, Belfast Trust is asking staff and public alike to think about their own end of life care wishes.

It goes against every instinct to plan for death, but talking about it doesn’t bring it closer and can make it more likely that you, or your loved one will die as they might have wished.

The benefits of tackling these difficult conversations with your loved ones is illustrated in this moving article written by Mary, a member of Belfast Trust staff.

“I have understood from an early age that death is part of life and with that in mind something to plan and prepare for in the same way as all the other main events in life.

I was unaware what a gift being part of a loved one’s death journey was until the death of my mother. My mum had a long battle with cancer over a three year period and was aware for the last six months of this that it would claim her life. This freed her up to talk about it and discuss with me what was important for her. She wanted to die at home, to be looked after by her children, I will never forget the day she came home from hospital, she looked around her and smiled and at me with gratitude and merely said “I’m home now”. No gift has ever been as valuable as the look on her face that day.

Being with her during those final months was a blessing, a gratitude for which has never left me. We planned her funeral, picked the music, the readings and the hymns. She discussed her wishes for the family home and made her will. We talked about what was important for her and for me to hear, we healed some old wounds together. We got to a point where there was nothing more to say and we sat for the hours she was awake, holding hands just being.

A week before she died I was alone with her in the house, I was in the kitchen and I heard her speaking, repeating the same phrase “Lord Jesus take me”. I asked her if she was ready to go and she said she was, I agreed to pray for her death as it was her wish and her time. My beautiful mother died one week later holding my hand.

About a year after my mum’s death a group of friends and I decided that preparation for death should not be made only when we think it is imminent so a good friend of mine organised a “gravey” evening, a plan for your grave night. We had a bite to eat and chatted about what was important for each of us and how to make sure our family knew this. So I planned my funeral, the music, the hymns, cremation not burial, cheap coffin so fancy stuff, my ashes scattered over my soul place in Donegal. The night was great fun and writing down what I wanted was liberating not remotely morbid. I also did my “bucket list” the things I wanted to do before I die.
Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef ticked off, wonderful experience, skinny dipping, very liberating, ticked off my bucket list. And so life went on.

A number of years later I was diagnosed with cancer and my own mortality came into view, I went back to good old basics I had been taught by my mum “ don’t pray for hardship not to happen, pray for the strength to deal with it when it does” so that is what I did. I asked for the wisdom to stay open to what this had come to teach me. It taught me a lot, control is an illusion, patience is an important virtue, gratitude in life is crucial and life is short get on with it, say all the things you need to say to your loved ones now. I am five years post treatment and well and my life has changed considerably, I had been on my own for a long while and decided that that was not really what I wanted so I took steps to change this. I was proactive; life is short ringing in my ears. I met a great guy who came with two children and two cats, my dog was not so amused but she got used to it. So how blessed am I to have this wonderful family, a new zest for life, a revised will, a box file made up with all my important documents and wishes all prepared for my partner, a few more things put on the old bucket list for me and for us as a family.

Today and every day I am grateful for my life and I live in the knowledge that it will end when it is meant to in the way it is meant to and in the mean time I will enjoy it all.” 

Belfast Trust has worked with the Public Health Agency, Macmillan and other Trusts and organisations to develop an information guide to help people start those conversations. It includes information on planning ahead, making a will, organ donation and funeral planning and can be used by anyone with any illness or none. Your life and your choices: plan ahead will soon be available from your GP or health and social care provider.