Dying Well on “Call the Midwife”

I have been a devoted follower of Call the Midwife since it first appeared in 2012. As a former nurse myself, so many of the stories resonated deeply, though admittedly my training was in the 70’s, so things had changed a little by then. The issue of dying well was not part of my training in those days. I even started writing my own memoires – you certainly see life when you’re thrown in at the deep end as a teenage student nurse. A pity I stopped as I might also have had my own TV series by now!

Somehow Call the Midwife resonated with me on many levels. Jenny Agutter was embedded in my soul as Bobby from the Railway Children – my sister and I used to spend hours sitting on a railing opposite our house, swinging our legs like she and Phyllis did as they sent their love to Father on the train to London! In addition, I saw many of the scenarios depicted in the series in my own working life, first as a student, and latterly as a fully-fledged SRN Staff Nurse. And finally, as a Soul Midwife, I watched in gentle admiration as (spoiler alert) in last night’s series finale they depicted the death of Elsie Dyer.

So much of the ethos of holistic end of life work was embodied as Elsie’s last moments played out. She was in her own bed, with just the few people she wanted to be there. Her cold hands were gently warmed, and she was covered with a soft, familiar cardigan by her beloved niece, Valerie. There was beautiful shared care between Valerie (her family) and Cecile (her nurse) where pain relief was administered when Elsie wanted it, and not before. Lucille and Cyril sang quietly as Elsie slipped into unconsciousness. And Valerie left to get a 99 ice cream, as directed by her aunt, giving Elsie the space to die without Valerie there, which was what she chose in the end. The overriding sense of calm reassurance, to encourage Elsie to “Let your body do what it knows how to do” was deeply moving. Ultimately, it was a simple portrayal of dying well.

A few months ago my dear Pa died. We were able to support him in very similar ways as shown last night on #callthemidwife, and I believe his death was just as peaceful as Elsie’s. I will be forever grateful for the training that enabled me to help facilitate that. In my view we need to keep on talking about death and dying, to help people feel less afraid, and to show them the simple ways in which they, too, can support the dying days of a loved one. I love teaching TLC, and that remains my aim every time I lead a workshop.

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