A thank-you letter to David Bowie from a palliative care doctor

It wasn’t just David Bowie’s music that moved people from all walks of life, it was his death as well. Today,

It wasn’t just David Bowie’s music that moved people from all walks of life, it was his death as well.

Today, with the nod of approval from Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, Dr Mark Taubert, a palliative care consultant in Cardiff in the UK shared a touching insight into how Bowie’s death and the way he orchestrated his last few weeks, has helped his patients now and in the future.

Dr Taubert opens with an introduction to a patient:

“I had a discussion with a hospital patient, facing the end of her life. We discussed your death and your music, and it got us talking about numerous weighty subjects that are not always straightforward to discuss with someone facing their own demise. In fact, your story became a way for us to communicate very openly about death.”

The doctor thanks Bowie for the 80s, for Berlin and other personal memories before explaining further how the late music legend has helped in his professional field.

“I am a palliative care doctor, and what you have done in the time surrounding your death has had a profound effect on me and many people I work with…. Many people I talk to as part of my job think that death predominantly happens in hospitals, in very clinical settings, but I presume you chose home and planned this in some detail. This is one of our aims in palliative care, and your ability to achieve this may mean that others will see it as an option they would like fulfilled.”

The doctor thanks Bowie for his advanced care plan, including the directive not to provide CPR:

“I am certain you will have had a lot of ideas, expectations, prior decisions and stipulations. These may have been set out clearly in writing, near your bed at home, so that everyone who met you was clear on what you wanted, regardless of your ability to communicate…”

“…I can only imagine what it must have been like to discuss this, but you were once again a hero, or a ‘Held’, even at this most challenging time of your life.”

“So back to the conversation I had with the lady who had recently received the news that she had advanced cancer that had spread, and that she would probably not live much longer than a year or so. She talked about you and loved your music, but for some reason was not impressed by your Ziggy Stardust outfit (she was not sure whether you were a boy or a girl). She too, had memories of places and events for which you provided an idiosyncratic soundtrack.

“And then we talked about a good death, the dying moments and what these typically look like. And we talked about palliative care and how it can help. She told me about her mother’s and her father’s death, and that she wanted to be at home when things progressed, not in a hospital or emergency room, but that she’d happily transfer to the local hospice should her symptoms be too challenging to treat at home.

“We both wondered who may have been around you when you took your last breath and whether anyone was holding your hand. I believe this was an aspect of the vision she had of her own dying moments that was of utmost importance to her, and you gave her a way of expressing this most personal longing to me, a relative stranger. Thank you.”

The full letter, which you can read here, certainly uses David Bowie’s death to get the message across about the importance of planning for and talking about death, but considering Bowie’s son Duncan broke his media silence to retweet the link to the letter, we must assume that much of what the doctor says rings true.

Is death – your own or your loved ones’ – something you feel comfortable talking about? Why do we find it so difficult? Does this letter make you think twice?