Care at the End of Life- Testimonies

These testimonies come from those who care for, and accompany, people in their dying dies. They share their experiences that proper support and care can make death peaceful.

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Dr Amy Gadoud; Senior Lecturer in Palliative Medicine; Lancaster University Medical School 

“I always wanted to be a doctor from a very young age. I quickly discovered palliative care, focusing on the relief of symptoms for people who are seriously ill or nearing the end of their lives. I have never looked back. What I love about working in this field is the opportunity to see and work with all aspects of a person, together with their family and those close to them – we do not just focus on a disease or condition. 

When people are in need of palliative care, it is a hugely challenging and difficult time for them. But, working with people’s unique strengths and circumstances, we can help people to live well until their death and we can support their family in bereavement.  

God and faith are rarely explicitly mentioned in my work. But I see God in the patients, their families, and in how they respond to these difficult circumstances. As faith is an essential part of me, I bring it to my work. I would not have seen this work as a vocation initially, but I do now.” 

Fr Peter Scott; Parish Priest at East Finchley Parish, former hospice chaplain at St John’s Hospice, London 

 “Geoffrey loved his family, his garden and his home. He made a number of requests about dying. First of all, he wanted to die in the hospice. Geoffrey had received care at home from the local district nurses and the hospice community team, but he felt the responsibility of caring for him at the end of his life would be too much for his family, so when asked about his preferred place of death, he said the hospice.  

When he arrived, Geoffrey talked with the team about pain management and how he wanted his death to be peaceful. He was very keen that we knew he was not afraid.  The consultant based at the hospice and the team of doctors and nurses reassured him that his medication would be a joint decision, and they would consistently ask him about dosage and its effectiveness.  

I got to know Geoffrey after he came to our mid-day Mass. He attended in a wheelchair, listened intently to my short homily, and then afterwards asked if I would visit him on the ward. His room was covered with pictures of flowers and insects drawn by his grandchildren. We talked about his family, his life, his beloved garden and, after a few more visits, he requested to be anointed. Shortly before he died, Geoffrey asked if I would celebrate Mass with his family in his hospice room, which I duly did. We used flowers from his garden to decorate the makeshift altar. 

Geoffrey loved the hospice, he called it his “other house”, and he saw us as fellow guests. When he began to die, his last request was that he could breathe “London air as if I am in my garden”, so we kept his window open. As his breathing became irregular and shallower, a few bumble bees wafted in and out of his room. Geoffrey died surrounded by his family, in a room garlanded with flowers and children’s pictures.  

For this article I have changed Geoffrey’s name. His family wanted me to write something, because while they miss him, they want others to know that dying, with support and care, can be peaceful.” 

From the Westminster Record, published by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster – republished with permission 

Audrey Ardern-Jones; Nurse and poet 

In Celebration of what it Means to be Human 

I’ve seen birth in its glory  

the joy of a newborn 

a sweetness – innocence, 

pure love in a tiny hand 

gripping my finger. 

I’ve shared the anguish 

of a family with a dying child, 

the hurt, the pain and tears 

an angel in flight – white  

in the darkness of night.  

I’ve visited hospices 

seen the tenderness of care, 

the kindness of strangers, 

sacred moments that matter 

in last days, minutes.  

I’ve felt the struggles 

of thousands of patients 

and families, the trials  

of living with chronic illness, 

ways of courage, faith. 

I’ve seen anger and hurt 

the suffering of those  

in terrible pain, the agony 

of loneliness, fear of death, 

the cruelty of chance. 

We speak of God – his gifts, 

we know that each breath 

we breathe really matters 

and we are thankful to Him 

our life force, our being. 

Alejandra Dubeibe Fong; Membership Development Officer – End of Life Companionship Project; Saint Vincent de Paul Society 

“I joined the SVP back in 2021 when I heard about the End-of-Life Companionship programme. This project was planned to train SVP members to become End-of-Life Companions. This was an initiative that fitted perfectly with SVP values. 

We invited all SVP members to learn about being with the dying, and the project was an instant success with over 300 members joining the sessions. Most of them claimed they felt reassured and more confident of being with the dying. Some of them also shared their experiences accompanying those at the end of life and the importance of non-judgmental listening, genuine care, and just being there for another person. 

Personally, I accompanied a lady at the end of life. Despite only having brief encounters with her, she mentioned how important it was to see ‘life’ through me. Her statement surprised me, but I realised that I would enter her room with my busy life, and she would ask me about it. For her nothing changed between one day to another, she was in the same hospital room, but she would live new experiences when hearing my stories. I would also learn about the past when hearing about her life – the things she liked to do, her previous jobs, her family, and so on. 

The ministry of accompanying someone else, especially in that vulnerable time, is enriching for both the companion and the dying person. The dying person knows they are not alone; they know they can share what matters the most to them. Companions learn stories that otherwise no one would listen to. Both of them embark on a spiritual journey of reminiscing and reflecting on the beauty of a life’s journey.” 

Dr Lynn Bassett; Retired Healthcare Chaplain 

“It was my privilege, as a hospital chaplain for over 14 years, to be alongside the sick and dying and those close to them. I met many courageous and inspiring people: even now, they live on in my memory and they have surely influenced my own perspective on life and mortality. Without wishing to underestimate the value of time spent with people at any age or stage of life, there is something about the immediacy of an earthly life drawing to a close which brings urgency and intensity to the encounter. Relationships and conversations deepen more swiftly; there is no time, or energy, to waste on idle chat. Often the sense of liminality is palpable and, in that space where the boundaries between heaven and earth begin to blur, God’s presence feels very near. 

Depending on where you live, and how you feel called, there are various opportunities to become involved in the valuable work of end-of-life companionship in both healthcare and community settings. Organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society and Marie Curie Cancer Care offer volunteer programmes. Details can be found at: https://svp.org.uk/news/care-begins-end and https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/helper-volunteers/become-a-helper”