My Mother died just before Christmas. She was 93, so it wasn’t exactly unexpected. The tragedy of it was rather that she had been very ill with cancer for the last 6 months, and had been suffering whilst at the same time, very aware of what was happening. Visits to the care home were depressing, as she had become practically deaf, so conversation was almost impossible, but she would often say that she wanted to die in the night.
Why do I raise this rather depressing thought? Everyone I spoke to about it, my sisters, friends, relatives, acquaintances all agreed that you wouldn’t let an animal suffer as she did – and yet we did, we had no choice under the law of this country, and she was far too ill to travel. Eventually the doctor put her on a diamorphine drip for pain-relief, and the end, mercifully, came within a few days of that. We’ve had talks about dignity in dying, and this brought it home – she really had none, and suffered greatly.
Why do we continue in this country to accept these archaic laws around death, not tackling what everyone recognises is a very complex subject because it’s so difficult? We must find a way to give people choice at the end of their lives, and this experience has at least renewed my determination to help those campaigning for a change in the law, and reassured me that we are right to fight against religious privilege and dominance of how we run our last days.
She wanted a cremation and, unfortunately, a religious service, even though I can never remember her voluntarily going to church, apart from for weddings and funerals. I think she was only religious in the old, superstitious way – ‘just in case’. The C of E vicar had at least met her a few times, and knows my sister quite well, so gave a fairly sympathetic homily. He knew we were secular Humanists, which I helpfully reminded him just before the service, and he at least dropped the proposed bible readings. Whether this was deliberate, or the result of nerves at reading to an audience including the chair of a Humanist group and a Humanist celebrant, I’m not sure. In the end it was a bright crisp winter’s day, with snow on the ground, and it was good to meet old friends and relations – but this doesn’t make up for the lack of choice she had about how and when she died.