I feel moved to write having read about your work in Melanie Reid’s article in The Times (14 March). I have a deep personal interest in end of life care. My daughter Megan Young died of cancer in January 2010, aged 32. My husband died of cancer in 1990, aged 42. I have also experienced the deaths of my mother and father.
It is the death of my daughter which I feel is most relevant to your work. She was a veterinary surgeon, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. As a vet, she frequently ended the lives of her patients. For her, the ending of each life, be it dog, cat, horse … was intensely profound. Megan was a person aware of the spiritual side of life. She was also a poet. She expressed her thoughts on the taking of life in a poem which I hope you will understand me quoting to you, as my own words would not do her beliefs justice.
I feel that Megan’s words may have some relevance to your work. I think the poem is incredibly powerful – it makes me draw in my breath every time I read it. It might be relevant to know that she wrote it at a time when she was working as an emergency vet and therefore nearly all her patients were either seriously ill or had been badly injured in accidents. It is very exacting work and every decision to end a life took its toll on her.
I wonder if, when I made my choices, I knew
How grave would be my dominion,
How many times each week, each day, some days each hour
I would hold a life in my hands, to be restored – or not,
That I would be a messenger of death.
And had I known that, would anything at all have changed.
I wonder what made me such a one
Who would lead so many to that dark place,
With whose heart those final beats would resonate,
By whose hand so many last breaths would drift away.
And if I could somehow hold that air in the room
Would the life remain there too.
I am she who maketh them to lie down in green pastures.
I am she who walks beside each one into the shadows.
I am she who pays the ferryman with a portion of my soul to ease their passing.
I am, each week, each day, some days each hour
An instrument of death.
We are few, the privileged ones for whom this is our calling.
Fewer still who know the weight of each life’s end.
I wonder, had I known this, would my choices
Have been the same and am I glad
That I can be for some amongst my fellows
A bringer of peace.
This poem has been published in a book of Megan’s poetry called Wordsmith: The Gift of a Soul. You may read more about it on the Wordsmith website. The book is both is both an anthology of Megan’s poetry and a memoir of her life. It was endorsed by Melanie Reid as it happens, not because of a personal connection but because she shares Megan’s outlook on life – and death.
Megan died at home. She spent a few days in a hospice but it was her wish that her life should end at home. We were able to arrange this with the help and co-operation of the hospice although it was not easy and required great determination on the part of Megan’s family and Megan herself. One aspect of this which continues to trouble me is that Megan was required to state clearly that this was her wish. She was so ill at that time that she could barely speak but she summoned up the strength to say the necessary words. I wonder how many others are not able to do this. Megan died with serenity.