Personal Views

Helping people to say goodbye

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 02 August 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:317
  1. Malcolm Williams
  1. social worker, St Christopher's Hospice, London

    At the age of 5 I helped lay out our neighbour. She lay in a bed with many pillows. My grandmother combed her hair. “Now she is dead we will make her look her best,” she said as I helped to tie in blue ribbons. “You need never fear the dead, my darling.” By 10 I felt bewildered by expressions of grief; everyone preoccupied. Me ever watchful. I knew that death followed illness. Lives altered forever. Life manageable only if we stuck together.

    At 16 a special uncle died. He was an adult who never embarrassed me. The doctors thought it best for him not to know about his cancer so we pretended. A lie never forgotten.

    He died in an isolation hospital, miles from home. We visited by train with flasks of tea and sandwiches. He lay, in death, in the “best” …

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