Share Your Story
Hearing about others' experiences can be helpful when dealing with death and bereavement. Do you have a personal experience that you'd feel comfortable sharing with the campaign? If so, let us know...
You'd think as an ex-undertaker I'd have a pretty good understanding of death but when my mother suddenly fell into a diabetic coma and died it was a huge shock (in was the mid-Seventies and people really had little understanding of diabetes) and I realised that seeing other people dealing with death was in no way a preparation for dealing with it yourself. I grew up!
Time, of course, smooths over some of the pain (anyone who says it heals it completely is wrong) but, just as I was coming to terms with the loss of my mother, my father was diagnosed with cancer. He spent the next two years mourning my mother's loss while at the same time watching what was left of his own life fade away. Again, in the Seventies, what masqueraded as cancer treatment amounted to cutting it out and hoping it didn’t spread; and as dad had skin cancer this meant losing half his face and one ear. This turned him into a self-confessed ‘freak’, whose appearance I found so traumatic that, to my everlasting shame, I became a stranger to him rather than face the pain of seeing him in such a tragic state. There isn’t a day goes by that I wish I had managed to muster the courage to visit him more often, although I was at least with him at the end, along with the MacMillan nurses and my wife, who was my steadfast shoulder to cry on; and, despite a reputation for being a bit of a hard-case, I assure you that shoulder was VERY well used.
Their passing was many years ago now but it’s still painful to think of the specifics and I'm not ashamed to admit I have tears in my eyes writing this. But, apart from the physical loss, there’s so much more I regret… I discovered via some old photos and papers I found when clearing out the house that my father was an army man (Seaforth Highlanders, Royal Artillery, General Service Core and even the Merchant Navy) and, from what I’ve been able to piece together, saw active service during WWII and was ‘mentioned in dispatches’. He never said a word about this when he was alive and, as a ‘normal' teenager, I probably wouldn’t have listened if he had. But I know pretty much nothing about his service life. Oh WHY don’t kids talk to their parents when they’re alive? It’s too late now!
On top of all this, I’ve now faced my own death no less than three times which has included one heart attack and nine operations. All of these I have come through thanks to modern medicine and also, in no small part, to the steadfast love and support of my wife. We've been married for 29 years now and unfortunately for her the part about in ‘sickness and in health' has been somewhat one-sided. Her honesty, her love and devotion means that I still have a smile on my face and a purpose to my life. I saw dad lose his the day mum died and I know from that day on he wanted to die himself, which is a small small consolation looking back.
The only thing I can say now is that, whilst death is as painful and as emotional as it comes, I have finally come to terms with the fact that, as the only certain thing in life, it is not something to be feared, and I have devoted the last few years to trying to spread that message, including writing a book, 'The Undertaker's Diary', and running a series of death talks at local libraries (what astonished me is that not only were these very popular but the vast majority of people who came were elderly; in my naivety I had assumed that, as the majority of people die of old age, the last thing older people would want is to be reminded of it!).
I still miss my mum and dad, plus a few assorted friends and family too now, but, in a final twist, I now work in a maternity unit. So I am now constantly reminded that there are always two sides to natures coin and seeing the joy on the faces of new parents every day is justification enough for that smile on my face!
The Dying Matters Coalition is led by the National Council for Palliative Care,
the umbrella charity for end of life care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Freephone 08000 21 44 66