The Death Letter Project
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Benjamin Gilmour | Paramedic

Death, I will not run from you. I will face you as a man must face a lion. I will stare you down so I can be in this bittersweet world as long as I can. But when you truly come for me, let my end be quick and spectacular.

For twenty years I've been present in the moment of  - or moments soon after death - hundreds of deaths. For me, being around death is unavoidable. As paramedics we ride a fine line between fighting death and accepting it. We struggle to buy people more time on this planet but, while modern medicine is indeed astounding and developing quickly, people over-estimate what we can do. If you're in cardiac arrest, no matter what the cause, your chance of survival is remote. Yet many people assume we bring those patients back from the dead all the time.

Sadly, the words I say most often are, "we did all we could, so sorry".

Denial of death as inevitability is widespread. Many of us are rather unprepared for it. Our society has largely abandoned faith and spirituality and drifted from the habit of pondering deep philosophical questions. Death seems to take us unawares. I've seen this look on many faces, a look that says, "Hang on, but, I haven't even thought about death properly yet!" 

Guess that is what us paramedics are there for, to help delay death a little so our patients can do what they've been putting off for a lifetime. We need to think about death more, but not fear it, because living in fear of death is not living at all.

From my experience of death in others I've come to believe it is not the end. This is quite apparent when observing a dead body; that the soul, the spirit, the life-force has up and left. Where it has gone is anyone's guess. Plenty of people are sure they know the answer. Perhaps some are right, perhaps all of them are a bit right, perhaps none are even close. I don't know. I'd like to think this life-force carries on somewhere else, perhaps in another form, re-inhaled by the Universe, re-shaped by our maker. And I have a hunch there is a God. But the wise are those who know how little they know. Death asks me questions and these are part of my life-long spiritual journey of discovery.

Benjamin Gilmour


Editor's note: Apart from being a paramedic, Benjamin Gilmour is also a filmmaker and writer - titles include: ‘Paramedico – Around the World by Ambulance’ (HarperCollins). Further information at:

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Such a light hearted way of saying death - that the soul, the spirit, the life-force has up and left. - Fern Smith (email)