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February 28, 2021

A different view of death for palliative care

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The winning PAC portrait of Greg MaQueen taken less than 24 hours before he died. Photo Tree Faerie.

At a time of year when many cultures are celebrating death, Echo photographer Eve Jeffery, a.k.a. the Tree Faerie, has won an art competition on that very subject.

Ms Jeffery, who moonlights as an ends of life photographer – births and deaths – was asked by the widow of local fellow Greg McQueen to enter a photo she took at the time of Greg’s passing, into the annual Palliative Care Australia (PCA) art competition.

Angela McQueen says she still looks at the photos and remembers a time of deep, raw emotions. Photo Tree Faerie.

Angela McQueen and her family said goodbye to Greg when he flew away on St Patrick’s Day in 2016. Angela asked Eve to come and take photos during the final days. ‘For me it wasn’t a question of why, but rather why not?’ Angela said. ‘We have photos and memories of every other stage of our lives so why not the end as well.’

Mrs McQueen said the experience was amazing. ‘We didn’t even really feel there was a photographer there. It was all very natural and easy. Some people weren’t into it which was fine. I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.’

Palliative Care… It’s more than you think!

The 2020 PCA art completions’s theme was ‘Palliative Care… It’s more than you think!’ aimed to challenge common misconceptions about palliative care.

Artists were encouraged to think beyond the care provided at the very end of life, and instead focus on how palliative care can improve quality of life, helping people participate in activities that are important to them, and creating opportunities for love, laughter, creativity, and fulfilment.

Goodbye. Photo Tree Faerie.

Chosen from 288 entries, the Tree Faerie’s photo showed Greg eating a chocolate éclair. ‘Greg knew he was living his last few days,’ said Ms Jeffery. ‘Everyone was doing their best to give him what he wanted and needed, and what he wanted right then was a chocolate éclair. So someone was dispatched to the bakery and got the biggest one they could. He really enjoyed that pastry. As it turned out it was his last supper, he was gone less than 24 hours later.’

The family’s wishes

Greg died at home which was he and his family’s wish. ‘His dying became part of their life,’ said Ms Jeffery. ‘It wasn’t shoved out of sight. It was a terrible and wonderful time, and it was an honour to be present. I will always be grateful to the McQueens for including me in their family at that time.

Greg and his family wanted to be together until the very end. Photo Tree Faerie.

‘I believe we need to learn from a very young age that the end of life is a very important part of being alive – I believe we need to demystify death and dispel some of the fears. It happens to us all and we need to embrace that, and live better lives because of it, and not shuffle it off into hidden places.’

Ms Jeffery said that there are many who may be shocked to see the photos and to see them available to the public.

‘This is exactly the reason they should be public,’ she said. ‘Dying is not offensive, it’s a fact. Greg, before he died, and Angela, since he has passed, both have given me their blessing to use the photos in this way – to educate people and help bring death out of the shadows in the process.’

Mrs McQueen says she still looks at the photos and remembers a time of deep, raw emotions. ‘I am so thankful to have them and be able to look back at what was a very full-on time with memories of how beautiful that time was. It was a section of time in our family where we made some amazing memories and shared laughs and tears. A very special bond was formed between us all.’

To see more of the PCA art completions’s ‘Palliative Care… It’s more than you think!’ artworks, visit: dyingtotalk.org.au.


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6 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for showing these photos. I worked in Palliative care for a number of years and have always thought it a great privilidge to be at the end of a person’s life. It can be a beautiful thing to see the peaceful end, although it does not always happen so calmly. As each person is different, so do they and their families approach death differently.

    • Thank you for sharing these photos with us all. I am an Enrolled nurse and have worked at a hospice, it sure is a privilege to care for the terminally ill patient and their families. Death is indeed part of life and should not be hidden away.

  2. Many thanks to Tree Faerie. Palliative Care is vital. When someone is
    ready to ‘fly away’ there is but ‘one sense’ left; ‘hearing.’ My most special
    aunt at 94 continued to hear phone calls from me in her final 3 days &
    knowing I could not get to California from here we connected up with the
    help of her carers several times each day. Long distance… no, not really.
    The voice means so much to all.

  3. I happen to know that on the night that Greg McQueen died, the Tree Faerie sat a vigil with him while his family took a well deserved rest and left the room to have some dinner.
    Ms Faerie didn’t know what to talk about, so she sang songs from her younger days
    (about the same era as Greg).
    She sang solidly for about two hours. Then Greg’s family returned refreshed, to sit with him
    – he flew away about 30 minutes later…

  4. This is so very important. We need to listen and act on, whatever we are able to do for a loved one, especially in their final days/weeks.
    I’m a palliative care nurse and an end of life doula. I am privileged to work in a hospice. Late one evening, a few weeks ago, a resident in his final days, asked for mashed potato, tomato sauce and peaches with ice-cream. As is often the case at end of life, he hadn’t wanted to eat for a few days. I peeled & cooked a fresh spud, mashed it smoothly with milk & butter, and served his meal in small serving dishes. I fed him and watched him smile as he enjoyed every mouthful. After his death, (2 days later, ) one of his sons’ told me that his Dad had said to his family prior to his admission to hospice, that mashed potato & sauce was his favourite meal.
    I felt very fortunate to be able to lovingly serve & feed this man, his favourite & also his final meal.

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