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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 73    

                             May 2008

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.  

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.



How to have a good death

Maggi Stamp gets an insight into preparing for the final chapter


The past few weeks have been sad ones.  My husband and I have bid farewell to a dear friend of 34 years standing who died recently after a slowly worsening illness.  We and all of her family, friends and colleagues miss her amazing energies, enthusiasm and loving and unique approach to life. 

What makes it harder to bear is that she was someone who was totally engaged in being alive.  Our friend loved walks, did a regular classes of pilates and yoga and enjoyed tap dance “for the fun of it”.  She had seen her parents live on well into their late nineties. 

Then we heard that another friend has yet again had a chest infection that reminds her she is in remission from cancer and is now swallowing several types of medication to support her incredible survival in the face of a rather short term prognosis nearly ten years ago. She fights on with style, humour and panache.

Other than being close friends of ours, these two fine women have something else in common. Both prepared for their demise.  In the case of our friend who has recently died, she had a funeral that was, naturally, deeply sad, but planned so well and uplifting to all – and there were many – who came to pay tribute to her.  Her family told us that she had chosen her music and the nature of her funeral and had discussed with her husband what she would like to happen and what she did not want.  This was a huge burden lifted from her grieving family and gave us all an opportunity to openly mourn her loss but also to feel a communal gratitude and pleasure at having known her.  We were treated to a fine lunch at which we exchanged memories with mutual friends and left feeling nothing but admiration for someone who could be generous and considerate, even as she left us.

Our other friend, who defies her specialist’s oncological predictions, has prepared for her death down to the detail, a necessary one, of ensuring that we undertake the care of her magnificent cat Horace. Living alone, she has left clear instructions with key people in her life as to her wishes for a ‘hearty send-off’.  We hope it is still far in the future.

Both these courageous and practical women have faced something so many of us find very difficult and yet know it is inevitable.  Their realistic approach is driven by love, kindness and consideration for their friends and family. When newly bereaved, when sadness or shock is feels overwhelming, having clear directions of what the deceased person wished to happen is such a relief. It frees the bereaved to set about the practical arrangements – so therapeutically welcome - without the fear that this or that part of the proceedings was not really wanted.

Death is where we all tread eventually and it is hard to look it in the face.  In some cultures this is not so but in others people go to great lengths to avoid thinking or talking about it except in roundabout ways.  ‘Passed on’, ‘passed over’, ‘left us’, ‘is sleeping now’, ‘no longer with us’, are all ways of evading the ‘D’ word.  In the West, denying the ageing process leads many to go to enormous efforts to erase the story of life that a face and a body tells as time wears on.  I admit to wishing certain aspects of my own appearance taunt me with their presence and I toy with the ‘if only’ thoughts of finding a magic potion that would erase them. Dream on!

What our two friends have done is an example we have already begun to consider for ourselves and we are grateful to them.


You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.
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