Our patient was dying and we had prepared her family for her imminent death. Their Imam had visited and they had already engaged the services of an Islamic funeral director. Their custom was for the body to be buried within 12 hours or before sunset. The timing was important and we wanted to avoid any hold-ups if possible. s
The eldest son had a special request. His mother had a stoma in place, this allowed solid bodily wastes to be collected in a small plastic bag. He asked if our staff would be able to sew up the stoma after death. He said their tradition was for the body not to have any foreign objects present. The funeral director had already told them that they could not help with this post-mortem procedure. The concern was there would be soiling after the stoma bag was removed. They wanted everything kept as clean as possible thus sewing up the stoma would prevent it from leaking.
I asked my medical team but no one available was keen to help. I would’ve been happy to come back to suture up the stoma myself but I was due to leave for an overseas trip the next morning. I asked around our other staff and three nurses with suturing experience put their hands up.
Our patient died the next day and her stoma was neatly sewn up by one of the nurses before the funeral director came to collect the body. The family were grateful and were able to bury within their customary timeframe. I was proud that our team had been able to help the family in their time of need.
He was far from home, many kilometres away from his tribal lands. He had come to the big city for cancer treatments and to be closer to the few family members who lived close to our catchment area. The treatments had not worked despite everyone’s best efforts. His condition deteriorated at an increasing pace. The Oncologists thought he was dying, that he only had days left to live and they arranged for him to be transferred to the hospice for symptom control and likely end-of-life care.
We managed to calm down his physical pain and nausea with urgency. When he was more comfortable his appetite improved. Everything was going well, we started making arrangements for where he would go next. Along with his family, he had chosen a hospital-level care facility that would be easy for his out-of-town family to visit.
On the day of his planned transfer, without warning, he collapsed and died. Death inside a hospice is not an unusual event. For Maori folk, after death, the usual preference is for the body to be embalmed and then for it to lie in state at a family home for a few days. Then it will make its final journey to the mana whenua/tribal homeland for burial.
Our patient and his family were all from out of town. They did not have a place of their own they could use to host a small funeral. They asked if it would be okay for his embalmed body to return to hospice for them to hold a tangihana/funeral.
We discussed it as a team and said “Sure, let us know if we can help.”
His family were grateful to be able to farewell him together in their traditional way.
In all my years of working in hospice, there have been more than four weddings on-site, but this was the first funeral.