THE BLOG

It is the Greatest Privilege to Help Someone at Their Last Moments

05/11/2015 11:09 GMT | Updated 03/11/2016 09:12 GMT

When I walked on set to film the new Marie Curie advert, it was not as an actor but as a Marie Curie Nurse. It was an odd feeling but I was able to slip into my role when I began speaking to one of the actors who had only recently experienced a bereavement.

In my job I spend as much time supporting family members as I do nursing people with a terminal illness, so in the middle of this set I found familiarity by being able to comfort someone whose mother had recently died.

Death and loss affects us all. There are so many families caring for loved ones with a terminal illness but they are in the shadows. It is something they deal with as a family and it doesn't often get spoken about with friends, neighbours, colleagues.

Recently, it was announced by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) that the UK is the best place in the world to die, yet there are still so many people who miss out on the care they need and so many of us still feel the subject is taboo.

I've been a Marie Curie Nurse for seven years but my experience of caring for people with terminal illnesses began when I was much younger - on palliative care wards in hospitals and in hospices, and later when I cared for my own father and mother before they died.

My mother died in 2001 from ovarian cancer. It was an extraordinary experience being on the receiving end of a palliative care team. The experience of being on that side of things has made me a much more empathetic nurse. That was a time when I wasn't sure I could handle being at the forefront of people's grief, so I moved into caring for people with dementia.

After recovering my equilibrium, I found I missed palliative care. It can be a difficult job, both emotionally and physically, but the satisfaction that you get from letting someone go peacefully and with dignity makes it all worthwhile.

To be with someone who is dying is an extraordinary experience. It is the greatest privilege to help someone at their last moments and help a family get through some of the most difficult times they might ever encounter in their lives.

At the charity we know that over 100,000 people a year in the UK miss out on the palliative care they need, care that would help them live a better quality of life, care that would support their families, and care that would help them have a good death.

The first step to reducing this number is to start talking about death - where we might like to spend our final moments, who we'd want there, what do we want our funerals to look like? By doing this we'd all be better prepared and we'd ensure our loved ones get the right support in both death and bereavement.

When I work with families, I often see people thrown into a situation they know nothing about and they are forced into a steep learning curve. There is so much to arrange and manage when you have a terminal illness, all the while worrying about your family and worrying about yourself and life's big questions. What I do know is death is much easier to prepare for when you are well. When people receive a terminal diagnosis there are so many new things to consider, people to see and appointments to keep.

The UK may well be a world leader in palliative care but if we rest on our laurels following the EIU report then we will only see more cases of people failing to get the care they need. We must do more to support people with terminal illnesses and their families.

I hope the new Marie Curie advert helps people talk about their wishes. It'll come as no surprise to you that we can't escape death but by talking about these issues we'll ensure we do right by our loved ones and make sure their last wishes are honoured.

That's the most comforting thing really, knowing that you were able to honour your loved one's dying wish. In a way that sums up what Marie Curie is all about - you can make death as peaceful and dignified as it can be and you give people who are terminally ill choices and control again.

Marie Curie Support Line 0800 090 2309*

If you've got questions about terminal illness or simply want someone to talk to, call the Marie Curie Support Line for free confidential support and practical information on all aspects of terminal illness. To find out more about Marie Curie services click here.

*Monday to Friday 9am-5pm. Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones.