Tuesday, 16 June 2015


One month ago today, my friend Jojo died. 32 years old, diagnosed with breast cancer last May and secondary breast cancer this January, we knew she was very, very ill, but still her death came as a terrible shock. One of the first things our other close friend Rosie said was that she wished she had talked to Jo about death, and dying. They had similar situations - Rosie was diagnosed with breast cancer last June and secondary breast cancer in December. Both of their cancers had spread to their livers. Both were undergoing further gruelling treatment. They'd talked a lot, but not, Rosie said, about death.

As soon as I saw that message from Rosie I phoned her and we talked a little about death, and dying, and promised to talk about it lots more. Not to be morbid, but to try and find out and figure out as much as possible what it is really like. It is, after all, the one certainty we all face, and it can be a frightening certainty if you really think about it.

We never got to pick up that conversation. Rosie died today. She went away on holiday, came back very ill, and was admitted to hospital where she's been for the last couple of weeks - moving to a hospice on Friday. Myself, and our four other friends that form this particular little group went to see Rosie in hospital last Tuesday. It was the one day when everyone had hope. Scan results that morning had shown she was not ill because the cancer had spread to her lungs or brain, she was ill because of an infection she had. We didn't talk about death. We talked about punching her miserable doctor in the face for giving us a fright with his doom and gloom, and going out in London and Brighton as soon as she was well again. We talked, and we laughed, and we gave her big kisses, and said see you soon.

That was the last time I got to speak to Rosie. I'm glad it was on a happy day, with hope. It was just the next day that she was told there was nothing more that could be done for her - she couldn't have any more cancer treatment because of sepsis, and she couldn't beat the sepsis because of the cancer in her liver. So that day, the day after we saw her, she found out she was facing an inevitable death, and that it would be soon.

From then on, after saying her goodbyes to her friends, her family, and her two young children, she was mostly asleep. I thought about her pretty much all day every single day this last week. Wondering if, as she slept, was she able to think? Was she thinking about death? Was she afraid? Could she hear people as they spoke to her? What did it feel like? Was she in pain? Was she hallucinating? Was she having weird dreams? How much conscious choice did she have about when to die? Could she feel her body dying? Did she want to sleep, or did she want to wake up but couldn't? What was her last thought?

These were the things neither me or Rosie knew the answer to when we talked about death. I don't know if anyone really knows the answer. There's information about "end of life" on websites like Macmillan, but it doesn't answer these questions.

Anyway, I'm sharing this post because I want to say that if anyone of my friends ever want to talk about death, I am here for talking to about death. I know that many people don't want to. But sometimes, some of us need to. It's not being morbid, it's a reality for us all - maybe it might be a bit less scary if it feels a little less unknown.


PS - (I should say, I'm not scared about what happens after death - this is more about what happens before, and at the very moment of death. I expect that the experience I have after death will be much the same as the experience I had before I was born.)

Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.
- Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar)


  1. Such a beautiful post, Sarah. Made me cry (of course) but also smile at you having such a relatively happy day with Rosie last week. This isn't my loss, I only knew Rosie through her writing and sparkly presence at YBCN, but I am so sad today for you and all those close to Rosie and I do have a terrible heavy feeling that the world is a sadder place for her passing. As it already was with Jojo's death a month before.
    I have similar questions about death. I too fear the before but not the after (that made me smile, too :) and have often wondered that if we all spoke more freely of it, that it might make the prospect easier to handle. As it is, I go to a dark place with it all sometimes, and emerge from it with noone else any the wiser...

  2. Very thought provoking post, thank you. I too ponder these questions. I saw a tedmed talk which came up with quite a good idea - a death dinner. Sounds very morbid to some but i would really appreciate discussing end of life care etc with my family. Thinking of you all at this sad sad time. I've learnt so much through your blog, and jojo and Rosies. Sending love.