Experiences of loss – by Merrilyn Thomas

Published on: Author: David Clark 1 Comment

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.

Gustav’s Venus

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.

Merrilyn Thomas

Categories: guest bloggers, personal stories, scotland

David Clark

David Clark holds a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award and leads the Global Interventions at the End of Life research project. He is Professor of Medical Sociology at the University of Glasgow and founder of the Glasgow End of Life Studies Group. Follow David on Twitter @dumfriesshire

One response to Experiences of loss – by Merrilyn Thomas Comments (RSS) Comments (RSS)

  1. Thank you Merrilyn for sharing this . Megan’s words are beautiful and show the burden placed on the vet when faced with very sick animals .On three occasions I have stood at the vets with my 3 cats as each was given a peaceful death , I stood and sobbed the whole time , I did wonder afterwards what on earth the vet thought of me , but I did appreciate the care and comfort he brought .
    I work in a hospice and I am struck by your comments about Megan wanting to die at home and how it need great determination to enable this to happen .i find it really sad that at such when a patient and family are vulnerable and really need to concentrate their energies into just “being “they feel they have to battle with the system and shout to be heard.
    My father was told he was terminally ill in Sept 2013 and died in Dec of that year , similarly I often wonder how people cope who have no family and no knowledge of how health systems work and who to turn to .
    I am very sorry to hear of your Megan’s death , thinking of you , I will look at the Wordsmith website

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