My first experience of a loved one dying came at 16 when my beloved grandfather died after a long illness. I had grown up around my grandparents and was particularly close to my grandfather whom I adored. When I was 11 my parents moved house, taking myself and my two brothers across to the other side of the country, I had very little contact with my grandparents after that. My grandfather was already ill with cancer before we left, it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t get better, such was my naivety, lack of experience or knowledge of dying and death. When my mum broke the news to me that my grandad had died I was deeply shocked that such a thing could happen, it was an even bigger shock when she said “you must of realised that he wasn’t going to get better”. The thought had never entered my head, I felt angry and frustrated that they had never thought to mention this fact of life to me; I felt it wasn’t for them to withhold such vital information from me. I came to realise that they simply did not want to have such a difficult conversation, so it was easier to say nothing. At the age of 16 I asked them never to withhold information from me again, if they knew somebody else was “going to die” I wanted to be prepared. I ultimately wanted to know and understand what was happening, and so my curiosity around death and mortality was born.
Many years later my darling daddy developed Alzheimer’s disease. Along with my mum, I became heavily involved in supporting him and caring for him. I wanted to know everything I could about dementia, including life expectancy. For me having knowledge gave me insight, courage and the wisdom to care for him the best I possibly could. His needs grew as the disease progressed, as did my knowledge and understanding, so enabling me to continue to support him and my family through very difficult times. As the end of his life began to approach, my dearest wish was for him to have a peaceful gentle death. It was also of huge importance to me that everybody got the opportunity to have some time with him to say whatever they wished to say. The Alzheimer’s had become irrelevant as I started to intuitively prepare my own family for his death, in particular my two nieces as they have never experienced a loved one’s death – remembering my experience of my grandfather’s death it was important to me that they were aware of what was happening and were prepared as much as possible.
In the week that led up to his last day I spent a lot of time sitting with him and talking to him, it also gave me great pleasure listening to him respond to his favourite music. The day before he died I gathered the whole family round his bedside, everybody got the chance to talk with him as we chatted, laughed, reminisced and cried. After they left I sat with him through the night until he took his last breath. My dearest wish was granted; he died a very peaceful gentle loving death.
Through this experience I was drawn to the End of Life Doula training, the more I studied the more I realised that I was my beloved fathers Doula. It is something every person, and their loved ones, would benefit from having when the end of life is approaching. As a consequence of him dying so peacefully I know my family were able to grieve our loss in a healthy positive way, I believe my two nieces are much better prepared to face their future losses when others reach the end of their lives.