By DR SARAH WINCH
In 2008 in Australia 143,900 deaths were registered. This story is about one of those, my husband, Lincoln Gregory Winch. He was 48 years of age, a former triathlete, regular runner and bike rider who had a life-long interest in sport and fitness. We were together for 24 years and have two children, who were 21 and 12 at the time of his death. He lived for only 4 months following the discovery of cancer that had spread though his body.
How do you function after a diagnosis like this? You must have heard of these incredibly sad stories. We certainly had and now we were living one. At the time I knew obviously that something catastrophically awful had happened to me, and my family, but most importantly Lincoln! I figured there would be time later to assume the foetal position and howl at the moon, but the immediate priority was to regain control! Lincoln’s needs, wishes, wants were to be paramount. As far as I was concerned he may be losing his life, but he was not going to lose his dignity. He was going to die on his terms, his way, within current legislation and treatments. The words of the famous mystic Rumi (1251) echoed through my brain, “sit, be still and listen because you’re drunk and we’re at the edge of the roof”. Roughly translated I took this to mean, take care, this is one thing you cannot stuff up – Lincoln has to get the best death possible. No second best will do.
It was clear we were in a terrible situation with a devastating end but we had some advantages. For one thing, I, Sarah, know things about dying and end of life care! I am a nurse, sociologist and ethicist who has worked in this area conducting research, teaching medical students, managing community services and nursing dying people. I knew it was possible to plan for a good death, to work out where you wanted to die, to organise the support you need. I know what is good, what is bad and how to avoid getting caught up in another person’s version of what your “good death” should look like. Lincoln did have the good death he sought. He wanted to support our children, keep fit, write about this experience, stay out of hospital and die at home. This happened as planned, except Lincoln died in hospital. This was his choice and it worked out well.
Two days before he died Lincoln asked, “Who else knows these things? You must write about this!”. So I did. Best Death Possible, A guide for dying Australians blends our story with the information and skills you need, to get a good death however you define it. None of this has to be complicated plus it makes sense to give your own death some thought. National Palliative Care Week is a good time to consider these matters. Think about it now, talk to your family and then get on with living. When that day comes when you need to plan your death or that of a loved one, you will have some end of life skills and plans sorted. You will have a light in what can be a very dark place.