Back in 2013 Billy Connolly, one of Scotland's much-loved comedians, announced that he has Parkinson's Disease and since then, he has been very candid about his journey. At the beginning of 2019, 'The Big Yin' stated, through his documentary 'Made In Scotland' that he feels he is nearing the end of his life.
According to Parkinson's UK,
"Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition. This means that it causes problems in the brain and gets worse over time"
"The number of people diagnosed with Parkinson's in the UK is about 145,000. That's around 1 adult in every 350" (Source: Parkinson's UK).
Dorothy reflects on Billy's journey and some advice that older people and families could take from his story,
"After a month away, I have today returned to work to take up, in earnest, the role of End of Life Care facilitator for Redbridge. I have been in post for several months but was doing a 50/50 with my clinical role as a Palliative Care Clinical Nurse Specialist. I will, over time, enlighten you as to what I do….when I know myself!
Today, however, I will reflect on Billy Connolly…AKA the Big Yin. Billy is a great Scottish comedian, so I have to confess a particular interest as a fellow Scot. Trending on social media today is the fact that Billy believes he is nearing the end of his life. He talks of life slipping away but states “The good things are still there. The love we have for a person is still there, and with a bit of luck, the love they have for you is still there” He went on to say that he does not fear death and describes his experience as an adventure.
Billy has Parkinson’s disease. He probably does not know exactly when he is going to die. It may be months or even years, but he knows that life is ebbing away. He details it beautifully. As he says, he is “A damn site nearer the end than the beginning”. He acknowledges that one needs a “certain calm” to deal with his deteriorating health and that he has his angry times, but explains that laughter helps him through.
“NEVER TRUST A MAN WHO, WHEN LEFT ALONE IN A ROOM WITH A TEA COSY, DOESN’T TRY IT ON”
Sir William Connolly aka The Big Yin.
So many people cannot acknowledge that their life is nearing the end. In not doing so, so many opportunities may be lost. We do not need to be at the very end of life to have these conversations.
I would advise people to be more like Billy. There are times when it may feel more appropriate to have the conversation. For instance at diagnosis, when someone close dies, when hospital admissions become more frequent, or as symptoms worsen, but be guided by your heart and head. Talk about your preferences and the preferences of those close to you at the end of life. Put things in writing: what you want to happen, and what you don’t want to happen. It means you still have control at a time when we can lose control of so much. It can relieve the burden of decision making from the family. It means that you can resolve differences, and gain a greater understanding of each other. In palliative care, we speak about hoping for the best but planning for the worst. Just because we talk about it doesn’t mean it will imminently happen. It is like insurance: just because we have car insurance, it doesn’t mean we will crash the car, but boy will we be glad to have it if we do. I think we should call advance planning “ENSURance”: ensuring our voice is still heard after it goes quiet.
Make a will. Consider lasting power of attorney. Choose a song to be played at your funeral – A few favourites have included Nelly “It's Getting Hot in Here (so take off all your clothes)”, Monty Python “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore “Goodbye” and the one that made me cry the most – The closing music from the Teletubbies.
I want to say thank you to Billy Connolly. I hope his openness and honesty helps to break the taboo of talking about our preferences towards the end of life and enables more of our voices to be heard at life’s end.
If you or anyone close to you wants to have that conversation, your health care professional may be able to advise or guide you as to where to get advice. There are also numerous websites, charities, and publications which can help guide you"
For more advice on End of Life Care and the work we are doing, check out our dedicated page here. You can also speak to our teams today (see details below)
Macmillan specialist palliative care team (Redbridge)
0300 300 1901