Today, I attended an “End of Life Masterclass” as part of my work for Age UK. It brought together 100 GP’s from across the county. I was there in order to give out information about our services and promote the project I’m working on. I also sat in on the workshops: how to identify people coming to the end of life, assessing and managing symptoms and planning for death. Not the cheeriest of subjects I guess but all stuff I’m really interested in.
The more of these events I go to, the more “normal” the concept of death is becoming. I listened to stories from a palliative care specialist about people’s reactions to the news that they had weeks or months left to live. He explained that studies show that actually, people benefit from knowing that death is on the horizon. It means they can get their affairs in order and make choices about their care. One gentleman’s response to the news was that now he could divorce his wife. The room chuckled at the thought. It seemed sad to me. Imagine being unhappy with your spouse but only changing your situation when faced with death. It got me thinking about what I would do if I was told that I had weeks or months left to live.
Obviously, I would be devastated because I like living. I’d be sad to miss out on all the things I could have done with the people I love. But as I thought about it on the way home, I realised that death wouldn’t be a tragedy. I have lived a full and fruitful life. I’ve traveled to 26 countries, I’ve studied and learned in and out of a lecture theatre. I’ve seen and experienced a lot, both bad and good. If I look back on my life, I feel blessed to have had and created so many wonderful opportunities. NOW wouldn’t be a bad time to go and that makes me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I have loads left that I’d like to do but if my time was up, I don’t have massive regrets or things left undone.
So with seven days left to live what are some of the things I’d want to do if health and money allowed?
- I’d go and watch stand up comedy somewhere. I love the Edinburgh fringe festival so if I was lucky enough, I’d die in August and get the chance to see lots of comedy in one go.
- I’d magic it so that Nizlopi reformed and did a gig for me. Freedom is my favourite song and if it was the last one I ever heard, I’d be more than OK with that.
- I would go to Dublin and revisit where I lived and my two beautiful friends and their sons. The two years I lived and worked in Dublin were some of the happiest times of my life.
- I’d want to plan my funeral. I’m a complete control freak but planning my exit would bring me a sense of control and comfort. I’d also get my finances sorted.
- I’d look back at old photos and reminisce with friends and family. I love that nostalgic feeling. My memory is shocking so I love having people remind me of things I’ve long since forgotten.
- I’d want to throw a party for all my friends and family. It’d be like my wake I guess but I’d be around to enjoy it. I’d get shit faced (obvs) and dictate the playlist (sorry guys!)
- I’d want to finally see a shooting star! I’m 34 and I’ve NEVER seen one.
- I’d want to see the sea. It’d probably be Winterton-on-sea that I’d go to as it was somewhere we spent a lot of time as a family when I was a child. I’d take my shoes and socks off and feel the sand between my toes. I’d paddle in the sea no matter how cold it was.
- I’d write letters to people who have hurt me to tell them I forgive them. I would want to put to rest any bad blood or residual guilt anyone might have.
- I’d tell everyone what they mean to me. This would be the most important part. It’d be difficult. It’s not something we express to people but I’d want to spend time one-to-one telling people how much I love them and what impact they’ve had on my life.
What I’m learning is that death comes for us all and the more we talk about it, the less scary it is. All the things I’ve identified above are things I could do now, I don’t need to wait for death as an excuse or reason. It’s important to be conscious of our own mortality because it encourages us to live intentionally. Finally, the more I learn about death, the more I learn about life.