Dr Libby Ferguson
Medical Director, Marie Curie Hospice, Glasgow
At the hospice, we care for people nearing the end of life and approaching death in different ways. As their doctor, here’s what I’ve learned about how people prepare and what can help to make it easier.
People often ask if it is depressing working in palliative care. Whilst it can be emotionally challenging, palliative care is not just about dying, it is about helping people live as well as they can in the face of a terminal illness.
The way people react to knowing they’ll die soon can vary from denial, anger, fear and disbelief to a stoical acceptance of their situation.
Listening and being there with people is so important: exploring what matters to them and offering reassurance and support.
Fear of uncertainty
There can be a great sense of loss around their physical decline, accompanied by loss of independence and change in role in family and society.
People may worry about what lies ahead. Who will make decisions for them, what happens when you die, will it be painful, is there life after death and how their family will cope without them?
Other concerns can be more practical. For example, how they’ll cope at home as they become weaker and where they’ll be cared for if it’s no longer possible to remain at home.
Financial concerns can also be a significant issue along with getting their ‘affairs in order’.
Importance of listening and support
In my experience, listening and being there with people is so important: exploring what matters to them and offering reassurance and support.
Being a part of the hospice team, we can help with many of the practical issues that come up, to ease the burden for patients and families. Everyone will die one day, taking practical steps like making a will and appointing a power of attorney can bring peace of mind. I would encourage everyone to speak to those close to you about what matters to you and your wishes if you became unwell.