Embracing Life: The power of Palliative Care in living and dying well

Liz and Ian with Ian's brothers at O'Neill House

National Palliative Care Week runs, from 21 May to 27 May 2023 and aims to put ‘Matters of Life and Death’ front and centre in Australia’s consciousness.

In support of National Palliative Care Week, Liz Tantau shares her story of love and loss, emphasising the significance of the end-of-life journey. Palliative care is often misunderstood, but Liz wants people to know that it’s not about helping someone die; it’s about helping them live their best life possible, even in their final days.

Liz’s husband, Ian, received months of palliative care at home before spending his last four weeks at O’Neill House, a remarkable end-of-life comfort care centre in Prahran, Melbourne. Operated by VMCH, a Catholic organisation dedicated to serving the aged and disabled, O’Neill House offers a modern, luxurious, and homelike environment for up to 22 individuals and their families. The facility won the Palliative Care category in the 2022 Future of Ageing Awards…you can read more about it here.

Describing O’Neill House as a “beautiful place,” Liz recalls how she and Ian’s family were embraced and supported throughout their time there. Family and friends could visit at any time, and immediate family members were even able to stay overnight with Ian in his room. The presence of an onsite apartment ensured that someone was always with Ian during his final days, providing immense comfort to the family. (below image – lounge area of O’Neill House)

Leaving home with the knowledge that Ian might not return was heart-wrenching, but O’Neill House provided Liz with a sense of peace. The building itself was stunning, with sunny outdoor spaces, a lovely dining area, several lounges, and a peaceful chapel. Amidst the trauma of the situation, it offered a calm and gentle environment.

National Palliative Care Week highlights the importance of quality palliative care and the people at its core. Liz emphasizes that all staff members at O’Neill House contributed to their family’s ease during their stay, offering support to celebrate Ian’s life and bid him farewell.

Liz praises the high level of care provided at O’Neill House, noting how the staff treated Ian with love and tenderness, even though he couldn’t speak. His relaxed and secure expression in their presence was evident. However, what touched Liz profoundly was the staff’s send-off when Ian passed away. Forming a guard of honour, they serenaded him with ‘Amazing Grace’ as he was carried from the home—a truly beautiful and compassionate gesture.

VMCH CEO Sonya Smart explains that experiences like Liz and Ian’s are precisely why they established this service. Recognising that approximately one in four Victorians who die each year lack adequate access to palliative care, VMCH has had the privilege of supporting over 100 individuals and their families on their end-of-life journeys at O’Neill House. They are committed to advocating for palliative care planning to ensure that everyone’s final experiences are filled with comfort, dignity, and choice.

Liz echoes this sentiment, emphasising the importance of communication and planning. Ian’s decision to communicate his wishes made the journey easier to navigate. Liz expresses gratitude for the O’Neill House staff, who involved the family in developing care plans and helped them come to terms with the fact that their goal was not to extend Ian’s life but to make him comfortable and provide a good quality of life at the end.

Liz encourages people to have a palliative care plan in place sooner rather than later. Knowing and respecting people’s wishes is crucial, both for their own well-being and for the well-being of their families. Palliative care is not about dying; it’s about living as fully and comfortably as possible until the end.

1 COMMENT

  1. My husband has been living with MND for the past three years. Life as we knew it has gone forever, so the grief and loss is something we live with in the present. The loss of his dying will be something else that we have to come to terms with. While I find articles like those published in Inside Aging, my needs are more intense and immediate. I struggle to cope with the loneliness of living with someone with a terminal illness like MND. I don’t feel I have the skills or resources to support Bernie as best as I can. I also have metastatic breast cancer and Bernie’s needs vastly outweigh anything I am able to do to care for myself.

    My sister Liz Tantau and her husband Ian are featured in several of your published articles.

    Regards

    Cath Handley

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