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21st Nov 2023

Woman who’s watched 2,000 people die shares poignant things she’s heard in people’s final moments

‘Patients talk to me not so much about God, but the deceased relatives they see coming to them’

The longer we live, death asserts itself as the inevitable conclusion. Not the news you were probably looking for on a Tuesday afternoon, but that’s the truth of the matter.

But just what lurks beyond the final curtain? Nobody knows for sure.

One woman, however, one woman by the name of Sarah Wells, has seen much more death than any of us would hope to see in our lifetimes.

Working as a palliative care doctor, Sarah reckons she’s seen about 2,000 people die throughout her career.

The uncertainty that surrounds death combined with the certainty that ultimately we will all end up there, makes the process of death and its aftermath all the more fascinating.

But for many, it remains a terrifying prospect.

Sarah, who currently works as the medical director at Marie Curie hospice in Solihull, West Midlands, said she sees death as “natural, normal, and often beautiful”.

Her patients typically have just weeks to live after being given a terminal diagnosis.

Writing in The Telegraph, Sarah explained that people’s final hours are a “special, humbling time”.

She wrote: “We recently had a lady with heart failure who was terrified, having seen her dad die badly of the same condition. But we reassured her that dying is generally a peaceful process, during which people get sleepier as their organs slow down and they slip into unconsciousness, able to hear and feel the touch of a hand, even though they can’t communicate.

“Once people understand it takes much of the fear away, although of course, that can’t stem a sense of regret, the biggest of which is not spending enough time with their families.”

Sarah added that she has never seen anybody spend their final moments wishing they had spent more time at work, saying: “Not one person has said they wished they spent longer in the office, and sacrificing family time in pursuit of professional validation is a source of huge sadness.

“I remember a doctor – we are a tricky bunch, used to being able to sort things out ourselves – who talked of his regret at working through Christmases and putting off holidays with loved ones to devote himself to his job. ‘Looking back, it didn’t mean anything,’ he said.”

Sarah also explained that she finds those who are not religious are often more fearful of the ‘afterlife’.

She noted that while she is not religious herself, she is certainly spiritual, saying: “I’m not at all religious but my spiritual belief in an afterlife has been strengthened by my work.

“Patients talk to me not so much about God, but the deceased relatives they see coming to them.

“When they tell me they’ve seen their mum, or a lost child, or even a pet – whether as spirits or images in their mind depends on their belief system, but they always find it reassuring – I know they only have hours or days left.

The doctor concluded: “I’m not scared of dying myself. I understand what’s going to happen and will make sure I am surrounded by the people I love, because above all else, this job has taught me that our connections with others are what truly matter.”

You can read the article in full on The Telegraph.

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