As my aunty Rosemary lay unresponsive in her hospital bed, I didn’t realise that it would be her last day with us. But you did.
Not that you said that to us. Instead, you spoke comforting words to my uncle about Rosemary, her radiant positivity and kindness that you had witnessed in the weeks leading up to this point.
You sat down next to him on a spare seat and listened to him share his thoughts and his sadness in losing the love of his life, you listened as he made bad jokes because you knew that it was his coping mechanism and you laughed, despite them being not very funny.
Watch: Things nurses never say. Post continues below.
You said all the right things in response, not because you had a script that you followed, or because it was mechanical from doing it so many times before, but because nearly every day you had popped in to visit my aunt and my uncle since she had been admitted over a month prior. Because you had spent hours of your time with them. Because you knew them.
While you spent time with my uncle that day, I sat holding Rosemary’s hand. On your way out, you knelt down beside me, you stroked her hair and you whispered into her ear, “It’s okay to let go now. Don’t be afraid.” Then you kissed her head and said goodbye to us.
That night she passed away.
When I recalled this moment in the days following her death, this dedication of a volunteer, I realised for the first time how much those who work in palliative care do. While often unseen, unacknowledged and undervalued, after witnessing it first-hand I finally understood how important their roles are and how much they can make a difference.
Because death is a part of life. And while it may be the conclusion of it, it is just as important as fighting to stay alive. And the way in which it happens, the way in which we experience our final days, can be made more positive, more painless, more dignified, more humane, more meaningful, more ‘us’ by those who surround us – whether that be our family, friends, nurses, chaplains, counsellors, doctors, death doulas, or volunteers.