The south coast WA town of Albany is a scenic place to live and a comfortable place to die. (ABC Great Southern: Ben Gubana)
Looking to move to a new town? Checking out the schools, shopping centres, transport options and weekend activities is a must, but what about the death facilities?
A regional city along the south coast of Western Australia is claiming the bragging rights of not only being a spectacular place to live, but also the best place to die.
Top-notch palliative care, advanced health directive initiatives and a community-owned, state-of-the-art hospice are just some of the reasons that people from all over the state are choosing to live out their final days in Albany.
Death as a drawcard
Albany is home to one of the last community-owned hospice facilities in WA.
It provides a range of care options including symptom control and end-of-life comfort.
Albany Community Hospice support coordinator, Andrew Talmage, said when people get older and chose a new place to live, they investigated death facilities they would like to have available.
“We get enquiries from people living up in Perth who say they have heard a lot about the hospice and want to know if they were to move to Albany, would they be eligible for care,” he said.
“They might be planning for this to happen in six months’ time or a few years from now.
“They may already have a life-limiting illness or they may just be people who are very aware of the fact that life ends for all of us and they would like to be comfortable not only in their life, but in their death.”
Albany Community Hospice support coordinator Andrew Talmage says his place of work is “a surprisingly wonderful place”. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
Irene Montefiore, a long-term Albany resident and co-convener of the local Death Cafe initiative, recently attended a Compassionate Communities forum alongside people from all over WA and interstate.
“There was general agreement when we compared notes that Albany was streets ahead of the rest,” she said.
“Our hospice and palliative care teams are outstanding and there has been a lot of research done in the town around advanced health directives.
“People want to find a beautiful place to retire and because of its facilities, Albany is a convenient place to get old and die.”
Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington said providing high-level end-of-life care was important in the community.
“There are very few hospices around Western Australia and yet death is something we all have to face,” he said.
“Making it easier for people to go through that aspect of life is something we are doing better than other places.”
Dying doesn’t have to be sad
Mr Talmage said his place of work was a surprisingly wonderful place.
“A lot of people think that anything dealing with death and the end-of-life must be depressing, but this is certainly the most life-affirming place I have ever been in,” he said.
“More than half the guests who come in here go back home again in a more supported and comfortable situation after getting their symptoms under control.
“I walk out of here every single day more alive than I walked in.”
Having catered to quite a few end-of-life celebrations, Mr Talmage said there was no limit to the diversity of what people wanted.
“We have hosted living wakes which allow families to toast their loved ones while they are still here,” he said.
“We have never had to say no to an animal visit — dogs, cats and birds have all come through our doors.
“We have even hosted a wedding. Amazing experiences are possible only if you tell people what you want.”
Albany Death Cafe organiser Irene Montefiore has high hopes for a future in which talking about death is the norm. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
Talking about the end
This week, communities around Australia recognised Dying to Know Day, a day to have conversations around death, dying and bereavement.
Ms Montefiore is a passionate advocate for such conversations and believes a lot of us think that dying is something to be feared.
“These days medical intervention can save people from many things, so we tend to hand over the difficult topic to the medical profession,” she said.
“If that’s not successful, we hand over to the death industry. We are a bit removed from it all.”
Ms Montefiore is hopeful for a future where talking about death is the norm.
Mr Talmage agreed and said having those tough conversations made a huge difference at the end of a person’s life.
“It is really nice when all the people standing around the bed are on the same page,” he said.
A positive experience with death
Ian Bateman enjoys talking to patients during their final days. (ABC Great Southern: Ellie Honeybone)
Albany Community Hospice volunteer Ian Bateman decided to give back to the facility after his wife passed away there last year.
“My darling wife was looked after so beautifully, and I was just very grateful that she could come to such a lovely place,” he said.
“After I moved to town, I decided to try and make life better for the people here in some way.
“This hospice is a real gem in our community and I think that it helps differentiate Albany from many other towns.”