Mental Health in Palliative Care for Both Patients and Families

My very dear uncle is dying of cancer.  He is next to the last of my parents’ generation. I spoke to my cousin in Belfast this morning. “It’s me next” I said.  I am the oldest of the next generation. Ow!!

We all need to debate this in our minds… Death anxiety is the price we pay for our self-awareness: the shadow from which we cannot be separated. We cannot live frozen in fear, so we turn to our children, to wealth, or to belief in a higher power to soften death’s terror. But in spite of the staunchest of our defences, death anxiety is never completely subdued, it is always there, lurking in the hidden ravines of our minds.

Many years ago I met a certain Dr Gotthard Booth. He wrote a book on palliative care and cancer. We had an interesting time together! I was alarmed to put him into Google to find he had died in 1975! However, he maintained that we could not live properly!

What can we do?

One thing I do is to keep a resource file with useful snippets in. Try this below. I read it at my mother’s funeral…

From “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran
Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of Death.
And he said: You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling that he shall wear the mark of the king? Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt in the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
Other helpful stuff:
Momma And The Meaning Of Life: Tales of Psycho-therapy by Irvin D. Yalom (Amazon)
Also by Yalom: Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death

Sue Washington has dedicated her life to helping people. From early days as a school teacher she trained psychotherapists to an exacting National standard. Her thrust in her later years has been to help people realise their power. You can ask her a question directly at

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