Striking a Chord

Hermione Elliott discusses the need for a new attitude to death

“It seems to be becoming increasingly difficult to die a natural death. We have medical interventions capable of prolonging life, but poor discussion and decision-making around their appropriate use. We have CPR (resuscitation) as a knee-jerk reaction to death, even among the frail elderly. Is that how we want it to be?

Professionally, I’ve been with many people at the end of their life, but death is becoming more personal now. The deaths of my parents and older relatives have brought it closer to home, and now that I’m in my sixties, my own death is a very present possibility. That’s why I started Living Well, Dying Well, and it seems to be striking a chord. People are gathering around us who know the end of life has the potential be a time of healing and even fulfillment, where families and friends can come together in support, to make it the best it can be.

I firmly believe that death is one of the most important of life’s events and should be held with the same reverence as birth. Sadly it seems that death has become predominantly a medical event – do we need or want it to be that way? We are hearing of a growing number of people who don’t want any kind of interference – this is also true for me. I want to be relieved of any pain and to be made comfortable – but having lived my life, if at all possible I want to live my death – to take ownership of it.

People of my generation remember death as being a natural, normal and accepted part of life – of course not necessarily welcome or easy – I don’t want to romanticise it. Over the years we have distanced ourselves from death because we look to the medical profession and funeral directors to ‘take care of it’. The less we encounter death up close and personal, the more we will feel frightened or uncomfortable about it. I really hope our work will support people to engage with these themes, to take responsibility, so together we can create the conditions we want for ourselves and our loved ones, before we lose the skills and find the extraordinary process that is death is swept under the carpet completely.”

Hermione Elliott

What do doctors say about how they want to die?

When faced with a terminal illness, medical professionals, who know the limits of modern medicine, often opt out of life-prolonging treatment. In this article in The Guardian, an American doctor explains why the best death can be the least medicated – and the art of dying peacefully, at home.