A Good Death

Julie Myerson calls her mother-in-law’s passing “as good as I can imagine a 21st-century death to be.” She urges others to share their positive experiences:

Helen’s death felt oddly like the labor of birth: exhausting and devastating, yes, but natural too and, in some strange way, productive. More crucially, and reassuringly, the nurses understood this far better than we did. As the moment drew near and, inevitably distressed on Helen’s behalf, we requested pain relief, these nurses explained, with real gentleness and compassion, that it would be far better for her if they did not intervene. And they were right. Her final moments were peaceful. And to be allowed to be there with her as they ticked on past – it’s not something I can put into words. …

I’ve thought often about whether or not to write about this, especially when I read yet another newspaper account of how the medicalization of death, the obsession with intervention and saving at all costs, is robbing us all of our right to die in peace. But I’ve always hesitated. Partly because death, any death, is such an intensely intimate experience and seeking to describe it may be, for lots of reasons, a step too far. And partly, of course, because this particular death belongs at least as much to the others who were present as it does to me. All you have here is a purely subjective description from someone who loved her children’s grandmother very much.

And yet. It seems to me that what we all experienced on the 11th floor of St Thomas’ Hospital on that April evening was something that ought to be known about, appreciated, celebrated even. We surely can’t be the only family who’ve had such an experience? So I hope that Helen – whose love and friendship I feel moved to have known – would forgive me. Because how can we possibly debate these issues with any honesty if we don’t seek to share our most positive experiences of intensely private moments?