Why Linda planned her own end of life celebration

Categories: Care and People & Places.

Practicing Taoism helped Linda focus on how she wanted to spend the end of her life. Before she sadly died in March 2023, Linda explained her approach to reaching the end of life, including why she decided to organise a ‘celebration of life’ instead of a traditional funeral.

This article has been adapted by Dying Matters from an original piece by Rennie Grove Peace and is republished here with permission.

Destination: Wide Blue Yonder

The Hospice at Home team from Rennie Grove Peace supported Linda, who lived alone, following a cancer diagnosis until the end of her life. During this time she gracefully navigated the end of her life.

She was fully prepared for what was to come: calm and unafraid. During her illness Linda even wrote instructions – left on her fridge – in case someone visited and found that she has died – with a poem inviting them to take a chocolate bar from the biscuit tin before they go.

“For me, first and foremost”, Linda said, “I decided I wasn’t having a funeral. I’ve never been to a good funeral. Instead I decided to throw a big party, a celebration of life.

“A year previously, when I’d received the news that my cancer had returned, I had realised a lifelong dream to fly in a Spitfire. It was absolutely crazy, fantastic and more than I ever wished for. We all dressed in 1940’s clothes for the experience, and my son followed behind in a chaser plane.

“That experience, along with my love of dance, especially Lindyhop, inspired a Battle of Britain theme for my celebration. It felt perfect, because the 1940’s were all about pulling together, when you have nothing, and sacrificing to keep your freedom.”

Linda's vibrant celebration of life
Linda’s vibrant celebration of life

Making an entrance

But it wasn’t all plain sailing (or flying), so to speak:

“About a month before the party, my health took a sudden turn for the worse. Thankfully the Rennie Grove Peace nurses came out and organised some urgent intervention. I was admitted to hospital and for a while there, it was looking like I might not be around for my party after all.

“That’s when my friend Jo made the brilliant suggestion that we have a life-size cardboard cut-out made of me, welcoming everyone to the party, with a speech bubble saying sorry I’ve missed it, but I’m on a secret mission in the wide blue yonder.

“I had the perfect picture for it too: from my Spitfire flying experience! We had the cut-out all ready to go, but thankfully I managed to pull through and did make it to my party in person – making my entrance as if I’d just parachuted in from my Spitfire!”

Linda says that this experience was only possible thanks to the urgent intervention from the Rennie Grove nurses:

“They saved my life on that occasion, which meant I could attend my own party, celebrating friendship, camaraderie, and the joy of dance.”

Linda arriving by parachute!
Linda arriving by parachute!

‘I have what I need – that’s enough for me’

As well as organising her own end of life celebration, Linda explained the importance to her of letting go of her material possessions:

“I gave away everything I didn’t need. It took me well into my seventies to be able to let go like that. I’ve always had enough to get by, but not lots extra, so it didn’t make sense to base my happiness around having things I just ‘wanted’.

“As I reach the end of life I’m in an ‘I’ve got this’ headspace: I have what I need, not what I want. That’s enough for me.”

Making an end of life care plan

It was after her third admission to hospital that Linda decided to ‘get organised’ and make a plan. It was important to her that she be ‘in charge’ of her own death:

“I knew I didn’t want to go to the hospital ever again. I wanted to be at home from now on, where I could be in charge of my own death.”

Linda described how the Rennie Grove Peace nurses had been keeping in touch, and monitoring her health, and needs. But once Linda had been into hospital for the third time, the nurses stepped in and prompted her to decide what she wanted:

“Fiona (a Rennie Grove Peace nurse), sat down with me and said, ‘What do YOU want, Linda?’. I’d made it to my party by this time, which was my goal, so I said ’I do NOT want to go to hospital ever again’ and from that moment everything changed.

“I was given a 24/7 number so I could call the Rennie Grove Peace nurses at any time. And a prescription medication box was organised, to be kept in my house, so if I have a crisis, a nurse can come straight out and will have the medication needed to get things under control. And the nurses started visiting me regularly to help me manage my symptoms at home.

“I’ve not been to hospital since.”

Linda's full size cardboard stand-in
Linda’s full size cardboard cut-out

Deciding what was important

“It’s important to me”, Linda said, “to stay as independent as possible in my own home till the end. I wouldn’t have had a hope of doing that without the Rennie Grove Peace nurses.

“So far, they’ve come out in the middle of the night four times. If they hadn’t, I know I would have ended up in hospital by now.”

Linda also felt very lucky to have great friends: “they take it in turns to visit me every day and make sure I have everything I need. They call themselves ‘Lin’s Warriors’.

“That’s one good thing that’s come out of this time in my life. You start to realise what an impact you’ve had on other people. I’ve taught Tai chi for years, and some of my students have recently told me that I’ve completely changed their lives. And all those people who turned out for my party.”

“I may live on my own, but I’m not lonely. I have visitors every single day.”

The seasons of life

Linda believed that a key element of changing her feelings around dying was moving from ‘judgement to observation’ – something she had learned from practising Taoism.

“Ninety percent of us live in judgement, feeling the need to judge every action or experience as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

“So when we get handed bad news, our first response is ‘this is bad’ and then ‘why me?’ and then we focus on the negative aspects or go into denial. And I did that, too, at first.
“I finally overcame it through the practice of Taoism, which is essentially the ability to observe nature. Nature isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it just ‘is’.

“But there are seasons to nature – seasons of the year and seasons of life. There is birth and youth and maturity and old age and death. As you observe this you come to accept that you are simply coming into your season of death, and, at the end of it, like all living things, you are going to die. It’s inevitable.

“Once you accept that, you can start focusing on how you want to spend this last season of your life.”

Thank you to Linda and Rennie Grove Peace for sharing this story.

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