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15th April 2020

Life ends, so let it end happily

Josephine Gunnee

Josephine Gunnee loved chatting to people. She never said no to invitations out with her friends and made sure she grasped every opportunity.

Josephine also spoke openly about her wishes, choices and feelings about her future after she was diagnosed with a rare cancer.

A year after Josephine died, her daughters Linda and Alison discovered their mum had shared an inspiring and uplifting account of her early experiences with St Helena Hospice. You can read their story too, where they share why conversations about end of life.

As part of our Hope Together Appeal and ahead of Dying Matters week, this is Josephine's story.

Should I be sad? Perhaps if I was hurting it would be different. I find people are feeling sorry for me and I don’t want them to, I want them to be happy. Let’s just get on with it. I’m trying to make it as happy as possible. I’m always looking forward to what is to come tomorrow.

The doctor told me how long I might have and I thought right, I don’t want to die at home, I don’t want to die in a nursing home; I want to die at the hospice. So I just rung them up and more or less I said, can I die at your place?

I explained to SinglePoint what I wanted to do, that I wanted to die at the hospice, and was that possible? Last week I had a tour of the hospice and I thought it was lovely. My two daughters came with me. They lost their dad two years ago, he died of cancer but also had dementia, and I nursed him as long as I could to the last five months before he went into a care home. SinglePoint nurses came out to him when he was at our home. They were both dad’s girls and they’re still trying to cope with that.

We sat in the garden for a while and my daughter noticed there were some flowers coming out that her dad loved, so she said ‘isn’t that amazing?’ and she relaxed.

I’ve shown them power of attorney and how to access things. It’s just peace of mind. When my husband was alive - we were married in 1953, we had a very happy marriage, very happy family - I didn’t have to do anything, none of the finances. He was a banker so I never did anything. I’m so proud of how I’ve coped since. I’d never written a cheque or been to the bank and I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved since he died, and I want the girls to be the same.

Gradually I’ve introduced a few [paperwork] things to them and I’ve got to the stage where I have written a list of phone numbers of all my friends. They know my friends I’ve had since I was 18 years old but they don’t know all the friends I’ve met through bereavement. I’ve met some lovely people and I made a list of all the phone numbers I want them to contact in the future.

And I now say to them, this is where that is, that is there, this is here, this is who you contact first. And it’s got to the joking stage now which I think is good because I don’t think death should be sad really. I really don’t. You’ve got to live every day. And every night I say my prayers and I say thank you for another lovely day, let there be tomorrow. There’s no yesterday, that’s gone, it’s always tomorrow. I get up, get ready, get washed, get dressed, put my make up on and I’m up for the day.

I have lots of friends, I go out nearly every day and then I see the family at weekends. I think if you keep yourself motivated… I mean I can’t stand in a queue in a supermarket without talking to someone. I love talking. And I think perhaps some people have not spoken to anyone all day apart from me. I just like people. I’m a people person. So when I first rang SinglePoint and said how do I go about getting involved with the hospice, they said about the day therapies group. I went along and I thought it was lovely. I was surprised because I thought everyone would have cancer. I thought it was a hospice for cancer. But someone has motor neurone disease, someone has lung problems and breathing problems, and I was most surprised about it. Everyone is so nice and as soon as I walked in the front door, the lovely girl at the desk said hello and the atmosphere is lovely. There are so many different people and all their stories are different and I thoroughly enjoy it. I think if this is the start of my hospice journey and it’s this lovely, then it can only get better, can’t it?

I do go out a lot because I made my mind up I wasn’t going to stay at home and be miserable, because then I make everybody else miserable and I don’t want that. So I go out nearly every day and if someone rings up… like the other day I was doing the kitchen, got the chairs in the hall and I’m going to start the kitchen, knock on my door and the lady upstairs said ‘I’m going out to lunch, do you fancy coming, I’m about to go now’. I said yes! Put the chairs back quickly and I’m off! If anybody asks me out I go, I never refuse an invitation because I may not be able to have that invitation tomorrow, so I just go. 

I just love it here. Why I wanted to die in the hospice - and I hope they will have a bed for me when the time comes, that is the only thing – my daughters have to clear out and get rid of where I live and things like that. And I know it will be absolutely awful for me to have died there and them for them to have to come and sort out everything. I don’t want that to happen, I wouldn’t wish that on them at all. So I thought if they can say goodbye to me in a lovely environment, that is better all round.

I’m 84, nearly 85, and I’d give up my life now for somebody over there [at the hospice] that’s younger, without a doubt, because I’ve had a good life. That’s not to say I don’t want to carry on having a good life but you know life ends, so let it end happily.  


Josephine died peacefully at the hospice in January 2020, surrounded by her loved ones. Her daughters Linda and Alison share their story too.

This story may not be published elsewhere without express permission from St Helena Hospice.


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