The inspirational Dame Deborah James

How Deborah destigmatised “life’s last taboo”

As we start to process the sad news of the death of Dame Deborah James aka Bowelbabe, we’d like to pay tribute to this amazing lady for showing such courage, bravery and brilliance in the face of adversity. We’d like to express our awe and admiration for the way Deborah managed to open up conversations around death, dying and bereavement, and to destigmatise these subjects by talking so openly about her experiences. She captured the hearts of the nation, and she took us with her on her moving personal journey. While our thoughts and love go out to Deborah’s family and friends during this difficult time, our Head of Education, Kerry Macnish writes here about Deborah’s remarkable legacy.

Talking taboos

Former deputy headteacher turned blogger, podcaster and cancer campaigner Dame Deborah James has received widespread praise for her refreshingly open and no-nonsense approach to talking about her bowel cancer, helping to raise awareness of the symptoms of this terrible illness and raising almost £7 million to fight the disease. Furthermore, she’s helped to destigmatise conversations around death and dying and has highlighted the difficult conversations she’s had. In doing so, she’s encouraged others to think about how we want to die – and this often says something about how we want to live. Since May when she started receiving hospice care at home, she’s also been raising awareness about the vital need for high quality end-of-life care, and she’s demonstrated how she made the most of every moment with loved ones.

In Deborah’s words

“What’s really hard is that no one talks about death,” wrote Deborah on her Instagram feed. “We don’t really know what happens or how we’re meant to navigate it. Death is life’s last taboo. I hope that by talking about it a bit, I might bring some comfort to others … I suppose it would be weird to leave my column without saying a few final things: find a life worth enjoying; take risks; love deeply; have no regrets; and always, always have rebellious hope.”

Preparing for death

Deborah also shared that she made memory boxes for her children and bought them gifts for certain key future birthdays. Preparing for death in this manner can bring comfort, knowing that your presence will be felt in the future, and will help to assure those left behind that they are loved.

Talking openly

Many of us tend to shy away from conversations around death or dying, fearing our emotional responses. Or we put off such communication until the time is right, knowing it might be too late. Deborah has reminded us that by talking openly, sharing our feelings, and having worries acknowledged, we can gain the support we need, and start to make plans and preparations for what we’d like to happen before, after, and when death comes.

Supporting our families

At Rowcroft we aim to support our patients and families to feel empowered to prepare for death and to have conversations with loved ones around dying, while making the most of living each day to its fullest. Helping people at such times involves skill and sensitivity. Rowcroft also offers an education programme for health and social care professionals across South Devon, to assist our colleagues in having future planning conversations and supporting patients who are at the end of their lives.

Paying tribute to Deborah

While we know we’ve still got a long way to go to make death a non-taboo subject, with thanks to inspirational people like Deborah, we’re making headway. We’d like to pay tribute to Deborah for courageously raising awareness. Not only has she encouraged others to talk openly about death and dying, but she’s also helped to draw attention to the importance of end-of-life care and we can’t thank her enough for this.

Our thoughts are with Deborah’s family during this time.

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