Polly Woodford is an inpatient unit volunteer at Trinity and an experienced trainer and registered Soul Midwife. Polly trained as a Soul Midwife having been inspired by the work of its founder, Felicity Warner, who is the 2017 National Council for Palliative Care Champion. Polly has a background in management consultancy and runs her own training company, Pollywood. Polly writes blogs and articles about her experiences of end of life care for Trinity and the Huffington Post.

"To watch someone you love dying is hard and can be scary and painful. During my years working as a Soul Midwife, teaching the end of life TLC course and volunteering on the inpatient unit at Trinity I have witnessed this many times.

Small things make a big difference to a dying person. Putting them at the heart of the experience and listening to what they are asking for as their needs change can be the start of making that difference.

There is a fear of death which is completely understandable. It is both the one certainty and the greatest unknown which we all share: and yet how rarely we articulate our widely varied thoughts, beliefs and fears about death. They have become a self-fulfilling conspiracy of silence and dread. It transpires that some people think about their own death every day; some people don’t think about death at all; some people are terrified of their own death or being in the presence of someone who is dying; some people think death will come as a huge relief.

There are those who think of death as the next great adventure, and some who say ‘It’s not for me’. Whether it’s for you or not, it will happen to you and to someone you know and love. So how might we prepare ourselves and others for the journey?

You could try these simple exercises to bring you nearer an understanding of how personal each of our needs are and how simple it can be to find out what your family and friends might want.

  • Ask yourself what soothes you when you are in pain or frightened? Make a list of things remembering all your senses e.g. listening to music, being with friends, being alone, eating chocolate, walking the dog, having a bath, having clean sheets on the bed etc. Ask others to do the same and see how similar or different your lists are. You will have gained knowledge and insight both for yourself and others.
  • Practise listening to someone speaking without interrupting for 5 -6 minutes. Reassure them you are listening using eye contact, nodding your head or saying ‘mmmm’, but don’t say anything else. See how much more you heard, and they felt listened to, by you not directing, leading or influencing the conversation.

Florence Nightingale said in Notes on Nursing in 1859,

The invalid feels what a convenience it would be if there were any single person to whom he could speak simply and openly.

Be there, simply, for the person you love with an open heart, a gentle touch and quiet listening.

The person who is dying is on their own journey and it is different to your journey.

The person who is dying needs to know they are loved, cherished and not alone.

The person who is dying needs physical kindness and emotional reassurance.

The person who is dying needs you to listen deeply and without judgement.

The person who is dying is likely to be more peaceful and accepting of what is happening if they know you understand all of these things.

If you are alongside someone who is dying I wish you well through the days, weeks and months ahead.