One chance…


Over four hundred thousand of us do it every year.

Some will do it alone, others will have friends and family watching.

They’ll be spellbound, horrified perhaps, seeing us in a new light and the whole experience for the first time. Others will have seen it all before.

We may do it at mid morning… pretty-well any time of the day or night. We won’t have much of a choice. We will do it quietly, privately or to the sound and clatter of a busy ward…

… we will die in hospital.

It’s not the greatest place to meet your end but then, where is?

In the winner’s enclosure at Ascot? The beach? In your own bed? My guess is, most of us would like it sudden and painless.

It cannot be at the time of our own making, unless you have Dignitas on your speed dial.

If you have a faith and you believe it to be true, you will know the end is just the beginning. If you don’t… well, you either have a rude awakening, or you’re a longtime dead.

As you get older you’ll think more about the Grim Reaper. If you watch day-time-telly, you’ll notice ad’s from will-writers, equity-release and funeral plans.

Should you buy a supermarket, bag-for-life? You may not get a return-on-investment!

Cannon Henry Scott-Holland’s poem tells us; Death is Nothing At All. His words, a favourite at funerals and cremations. He is wrong. Death is everything.

Death is everything for those we leave behind and death is everything for NHS managers and front-line staff who have to deal with it, day-in-day-out, without making it seem routine.

Routinely dealing with death. Trying, routinely, to make it special. Routinely dealing with puzzled relatives, shocked and harrowed.

Making them feel unique because each death is unique.

Routinely absorbing the emotions that are the inevitable consequence of working in the caring professions, when all else has failed, all efforts exhausted.

This week is ‘Dying Matters Week‘ when we, rightly, focus on a part of the routine life of a hospital… death.

Years ago, in a hospital, my father died… just as the grey-watercolour wash of dawn started painting the day on the black curtain-less windows.

On the other side of the screens, a ward full of patients, had listened, all night, to his syncopated breath, rhythmic, hesitant, pause, stop, start-again and stop.

Not a nurse or doctor in sight.

The next day I was handed his crumpled pyjamas, dressing gown, wristwatch and wedding ring, a book and a box of tissues in a black dustbin-liner.

I promised myself I would find a better way.

I found Professor Anne Faulkner, she showed me there were better ways of managing end-of-life and bereavement.

In 1996, we wrote a book to help people do it better but couldn’t find a publisher. So, I bought some early desk-top publishing software, recruited a friendly printer and we published it ourselves.

It was a modest best seller that warranted a second edition.

That was then, this is now. Twenty three years later I have new collaborators.

We have updated and republished the book to reflect how much best-practice has improved, how the loneliness of bereavement and the impact on those who are left behind can be eased, comforted and perhaps, made bearable.

Managing a hospital is a gigantic job but it is not done by giants. It is done by normal people, who come to the task armed only with their best endeavours and good intentions.

Cures, caring and rebuilding the casualties of life’s happenstance are our stock-in-trade and so is death.

It is hugely difficult and as much as it is handled better these days, there is still a lot for us all to learn from each other’s best practice and the leaders in the specialty.

Today, along with Jules Lewis and Jules Lock and with a huge nod to Anne Faulkner, we republish the book;

Bereavement; a practical guide for NHS managers and directors including ‘101 questions’ to challenge planners, policy-makers and practitioners. Make us think and as a workbook to prompt us to do better.

We want to help share best practice and challenge organisations to think about this most special of specialties… so, in the hope it helps, you can have the eBook version with our compliments, free.

Please download it here.

We only get one chance to get this right.

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Reproduced at by kind permission of Roy Lilley.