The most important – and hopefully impactful – thing about this book’s publication is the sentence “research studies show that unresolved grief is at the root of 15% of psychiatric referrals” and the publicity that fact and problem is getting due to numerous and favourable reviews. It’s not the pain of grief – it’s the things people do to avoid the pain of grief that causes the most damage.
The very next sentence is “The fear that surrounds death and grief is largely caused by the lack of knowledge, and the aim of this book is to address this fear and to replace it with confidence“. So we are on the same page, Julia Samuel and I, as that’s a major aim and common effect of my workshops.
Ignorance and fear are at the root of so many strong emotions and problematic and damaging attitudes as a result – racism, homophobia, and the strange culture around death that is slowly improving yet still persists. Informed confidence often leads to understanding and kindness and lord knows, we need more of that in the world.
Those of you who have already done my ‘death and the only beauty that lasts’ workshop will know that I recommend a number of books in a category I call ‘grief, loss and other painful emotions’, and that the workshop session on that area is often the longest. It’s a truly fascinating and huge issue and something we all experience, in big ways with death, and in numerous little ways every day.
It’s vital to teach ourselves and children how to deal with painful emotions. True, death avoidance plays a major part in making the grief process difficult, but this is in the wider context of how we deal with all painful emotions. There are a variety of tools to help us, everyone is different as to what works best for them. Julia Samuels is a grief therapist so that’s her main experience (25 years of it) and tool.
‘Grief Works:’ (I like the double entendre in the title) ‘Stories of Life, Death and Surviving’ will be joining my list of recommended reading in this area. It’s non-prescriptive and open-minded. After a short introduction and section on ‘Understanding Grief’, her book is structured around three stories of bereavement and grief in five sections defined by the relationship ie, when a partner dies, a parent, a sibling, a child, and facing our own death, and each section is followed by reflections. The penultimate chapter is about what helps us to grieve and survive successfully, with a few final pages on the historical context of death and dying in the UK.
“Grief is an intensely personal, contradictory, chaotic and unpredictable process…”, Samuel writes. “The process is in the movement – the back and forth – between the loss and restoration…Alternating ‘letting go’ with ‘holding on’ is something we need to learn to live with…we need to become more familiar with what’s going on inside us; we must learn to recognise our feelings and motivations, and genuinely get to know ourselves…the deeper understanding of ourselves that we have gained will, in time, feel like growth.”
Amen to that and yet it’s not a simple happy ending. Samuel makes clear that resolution is not always straightforward or even possible, as I expect many of us know. Plus another part of our task is more universal than personal ie is to “find a way of living with a reality that we don’t want to be true…grief eschews avoidance and requires endurance, and forces us to accept that there are some things in this world that simply cannot be fixed”. And so, “onwards!”
Find out more at www.griefworks.co.uk
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The main reason for this post is to publicise a Learn to Meditate day 10am to 5pm on Sunday 26 Feb 20127 as a fundraiser for CEFN, the north Wales refugee support network. The workshop is open to all and booking is essential for ten places.
I thought I’d share why I’m doing it and some thoughts about the interesting times we live in.
Thirty years ago I was up to my neck in politics and had been for several years in several different arenas from a feminist collective (Spare Rib) to the GLC, a multi-million pound resourced local authority. I first learnt to meditate in 1987 and two years later (and after burning out a few times) I withdrew from it all – as my work as well as an activist – though I’ve continued to follow politics and nagged people to vote at the very least!
I began to re-engage as an activist (for want of a better term), most regularly (and easily) with what’s now called CEFN from when it started in August 2015. Since then Brexit and Trump have happened for a complex range of reasons. We have years of both ahead of us and possibly, probably, more calamitous events in 2017. Some, including Gorbachev, believe and fear that the world is preparing for war. What to do?
I subscribe (online) to Lion’s Roar, the biggest buddhist magazine, based in America, with writers from different buddhist traditions and a vision of inclusivity and diversity. Melvin McLeod is Editor-in-Chief, a man with a professional background in politics and journalism. I recommend his 2006 anthology ‘Mindful Politics’.
I watched and read its flow of articles following Trump’s election on 8 November. The issues are much the same for those of us grappling with our predicaments this (UK-European) side of the pond.
First up, as so many were in shock and freaked out, the emphasis was on remembering all the teachings on how to work with difficult and painful emotions. Pema Chodron reigns supreme in communicating these teachings most simply and clearly methinks. Her books have titles such as ‘Uncomfortable with Uncertainty’, ‘Practicing Peace in Times of War’ and ‘The Places That Scare Us’ – take your pick! Read my review of her book How to Mediate.
A month later, Jack Kornfield posted ‘Now is the time to stand up: Practising the Dharma in Uncertain Times, part two’. ”This is not about red or blue,” he says. ”It’s about standing up for the prevention of harm…You are not alone. You have generations of ancestors at your back….You have been training for this for a long time.” Wary of headless chicken syndrome, perhaps, he concludes “Don’t worry if Right Action is not yet clear to you…Wait in the unknowing…Soon the right time will come and you will know to stand up.”
This was followed by other articles encouraging the same, notably monk-scholar Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Let’s Stand Up Together. In it, he urges buddhists to become “more visible as advocates of peace, basic sanity, and social justice” and explains why doing so transcends party politics.
I was particularly struck by Mushim Ikeda’s I Vow Not to Burn Out. ”It’s not enough to help others,” she says. ”You have to take care of yourself too.” I ran a couple of days in 2016 for CEFN activists of self-care techniques, mindfulness, energy exercises, and Way of Council as a way of sharing concerns and feelings about the refugee crisis. Not many came but it kinda helped get the importance of self care on the agenda, which helps when someone melts down. Mushim Ikeda uses the concept of ‘radical rest’.
The day after I originally posted this, Suzanne Moore’s opinion column in the Guardian appeared ‘Aromatherapy won’t stop fascism, but we shouldn’t dismiss self-care as trite‘. Clearly, the concern about the effect current events are having on people’s health and mental state has gone mainstream, as has the importance of pacing ourselves and building resilience.
The Lions Roar article that’s stayed most with me is an interview with Rev. angel Kyodo williams, An Unprecedented Opportunity. Zen priest, spiritual maverick, activist and founder of CXC (Centre for Transformative Change) which is dedicated to “changing the way change is done”. CXC supports social activists in becoming more spiritual as Rev angel believes this is the only way we will ‘flip the switch’ in people’s hearts so that we treat each other and the Earth more compassionately. She sees this as America’s “next great social movement: the application of inner awareness practice to broad-based social change”. I hope she’s right.
An obituary I recently read has stayed with me too. A son described how his mother, Marjorie, (then an ambulance driver) had met his father during a London air raid – adding how, after the events of 1938, she’d decided to learn how to drive and trained in first aid.
So here’s A Meditator’s 7-Point Practice Plan for 2017, from Ethan Nichtern, sharing the practices he’ll be undertaking to stay healthy and responsibly engaged this year. I’m off to practice point 5 now, Responsible Consumption, to get one of these cool Sit Down, Rise Up tee shirts.
Tho I will just add that if you don’t want to ‘do’ stuff but you have money, for goodness sake, give money to help others ‘do’ – step up and give generously. The best thing about money (which is a neutral energy) is what you can do with it – put yours to work for the good. (By the way, I save with and recommend Triodos Bank – ethical and transparent, and about to launch a current account too.)
Thanks for reading.
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We’re used to seeing unconventional coffins at some funerals now, tho not many people decorate or paint their own.
It does happen – I know an artist who’s painted someone else’s coffin for them and to their instruction. And twenty years ago I knew a woman who, on knowing her cancer was definitely terminal, began to paint her own coffin as part of preparing for her death – she was back in New Zealand at that time.
So maybe there’s something in the Kiwi air that makes people get creative with coffins?
A Guardian article tells of a Coffin Club craze across New Zealand with people getting together to build coffins and then often decorate them too. Dozens of groups have sprung up across the country in a creative and cost-saving activity that’s also led to new friendships and ‘sidelines’, such as making and donating baby coffins for the local hospital.
I’m not sure it’ll catch on in the UK, although my home country is full of surprises lately…
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Whilst death and love are probably the two biggest and constant themes of theatre in general, it’s good to see death being a central character in a number of new plays. It’s all an encouraging sign of how our culture is opening up slowly but surely more and more to death, every act of creation being a further blow to our death denying culture.
An award winning series of shows ran together as Death on the Fringe at this years Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The shows included a musical thriller; a stand up comic who survived breast cancer; The Death Pantomine featuring the corpses of two women in a funeral parlour who start talking to each other; and Little Wolfie, a new adaption of a hard hitting Ibsen play about many kinds of loss.
Meanwhile, from Brighton, Dead Happy is a one-man play with a twist – your home is the venue for an intimate and affecting theatre experience impossible to achieve in a conventional venue. Simon Lovat (aka Vidyadhara) plays funeral director Francis Putlock, who arrives at your door for a consultation. Following rave reviews at the Brighton Fringe Festival this year Dead Happy is available for bookings in Sussex for £75, London for £100, and by negotiation for further afield. It’s a social experiment and if ten people come, it’s as cheap as chips (nearly).
Wandering around the streets of the Mission today I was enjoying all the window displays appearing to mark both Halloween and the Mexican Day of the Dead. And I’m sorry I’ll miss San Francisco’s cutting edge Dance Brigade performing their highly aclaimed multi-media dance drama to mark both of these festivals that are so popular here. The Great Liberation Upon Hearing follows the bardo experience as depicted in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
And then I discovered playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie’s simple and cogent adaption of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and his stunning production of it premiered as a play in New York 1983, and as an opera in Houston 1996. Make sure you scroll down and don’t miss the set.
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Here’s a suggestion of some ‘work’ you can do before coming on the Second Half of Life workshop. It’s optional, of course. If you do it, I’m confident it will help you to get more out of the w/e.
When I ask people about their lives, I’ve noticed how many can’t remember certain details or what exactly happened when exactly. I’ve also noticed – from my own experience – that the more I remember, well, the more I remember.
In the buddhist community I’m part of (in the old days, anyway, it may not be like this now) we used to do a fair bit of life story work. I felt I really benefited from that. I’ve told my life story:
to a group I studied with, in 30 minutes;
over an afternoon, on a w/e away with people I worked in a business with;
and over a three hour long evening.
It was different every time. Either in how I felt about my life, or the aspect I emphasised. One time my family were writ large. Another time my focus was my jobs, and another my relationships.
All of these experiences though helped me to collect and integrate my life, and to stand back from it a bit and get a bigger perspective on it.
What better time to do that than before this workshop!
There’s all sorts of ways you can go about doing some life story work.
You could share it with someone else ie tell it aloud. You may want to make some notes beforehand, or do it on the hoof. You may want to record it (as I did my 3 hour marathon in 1995). I can guarantee it will help to decide/agree a time limit and ask your listener to not interupt you – except to give you a five minute warning.
In fact this is a great way to deepen a relationship (friends, family, partner, lover, whatever…). I did it with with one of my oldest friends (in both senses of the word) and found out loads about her I’d never heard before. It was wonderful. And helped me to understand her better (especially the things that drove me bonkers about her) and so be more easily patient.
This can also, of course, be a bit tricky. It brings up issues of truth telling, of being able to get back in touch with painful episodes, of the ability of both people being able to be with that. And of people’s ability to be able to simply listen. We will learn more about all this through doing the Way of Council on the workshop.
So you may prefer to do this work alone and in another way. In fact, I’d recommend starting like that.
You could try simply writing it. Notes. Or longhand.
Another method is to make a long piece of paper. Lining paper is good (and cheap), or sellotape some other paper together. You need a long thin rectangle. Draw a line through the middle of it horizontally. Split it up into five or ten year segments (segment size is upto you). Pop down your life, in words, or note form. And try to ‘sum up’ whether each event was (overall) pleasant, painful, or neutral. If something was pleasant put it above the horizontal line, if painful put it below the line, if neutral put it on the line. Please notice that I’m using the words ‘pleasant’ and ‘painful’, and not the words ‘positive’ and ‘negative’.
You may not be a words person or prefer a more visual way of collecting your life together. You could use a timeline again. Or do a collage.
Hopefully one of these ways will work for you. Give it at least an hour, preferably longer, an afternoon or evening. You’ll get as much out of it as you put into it – like pretty much everything.
We’ve all had painful episodes in our lives, some more than others. If you have had a traumatic incident you may well resist doing life story work. It’s up to you though I’d say give it a go and trust you will only get back in touch with what you are able to deal with.
And stories, including our stories, are not as simple as they seem. In my experience they don’t stay the same. Another reason for re-visiting things. Good for you!
The American poet Mark Doty wrote “What is healing but a shift in perspective?” And that may well happen. Stay open to whatever may happen!
I hope you enjoy this exercise. It’s ‘play’ really, not ‘work’.
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This is a 13 minute long trailer for an intended film called Legacy of Wisdom. I came across it via Roshi Joan Halifax’s Upaya website (in turn via links in a Lost Borders newsletter). And it was Joan Halifax’s simple comment “Appreciate your life” that stayed with me. Always good to be reminded of that! How about you? I hope you find it helpful to watch – and that it encourages you to come and do some ‘second half of life’ work with me…
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18 months ago I posted a blog with links to a range of second half of life resources in america – many of them radical groups – and lamented the lack of resources and action here in the UK http://www.janparker.co.uk/second-half/conscious-aging-resources-in-america/
I felt a little lonely in this work :-) but valiantly carried on.
18 months later I doubt there’s anyone who doesn’t have some sense – if not the stats – of our the changing demographics of our situation: that last year (in the UK), for the first time, there are more people over 40 than under it and that this trend will continue, with older people out-numbering younger people. In Britain ten million people are currently over 65, a sixth of the population.
You can go in two directions with this situation: into the fear and aversion of ageing and an amplification of ageism and contempt towards the elderly, as indeed Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, warned of at the end of 2012. Or into all the possibilities that such uncharted waters inevitably bring if we can but be open to that.
Older people in the UK contribute an estimated £61bn to the economy through employment, volunteering and caring, but many feel unrecognised. 92% of a recent survey by the Guardian don’t feel older people’s skills, knowledge and experience are valued and harnessed by society. And an increasing number of research and studies are exploding the many myths about older people:
that countless studies have shown that as people grow older they generally get happier (in fact the most unhappy people are those in mid-life 45-49) and that life satisfaction is especially high for people between 65-79 (Office for National Statistics);
that only 20% of people over 85 need professional support or care to live independently (Newcastle University);
and that 84% of people over 80 do not develop dementia (Alzheimers Society),
to mention but a few.
It’s saddened me to see the way the young and the old have been played off against each other in the run up to the General Election in the UK. It’s saddened me to see the young encouraged to resent older people for monopolising increasingly scarce resources when the truth is that inequality is the real issue and that that exists in all age groups.
One thing seems sure though: that – at last – the topic of ageing is no longer being avoided or ignored. There has been a notable increase of coverage in the media, more books published, websites, services and a call for an older people’s minister with a place in the cabinet.
I hope that happens and that it brings in radical positive change. The popular image of political commitment among older people is of a shift to the right. I question that. I’m with Maggie Kuhn, founder in 1970 New York city of the gray panthers www.graypanthers.org who fought truth decay, and with Trevor Huddleston, notable anti-apartheid and anti-racist campaigner, who said in his late 70′s, “I’ve become more revolutionary every year I’ve lived”.
There’s never been a better time to age and join the age-acceptance movement. And there’s never been a better time to challenge ageism and the narrative of nothing but decline. Encourage whatever brings people of all ages together and reminds us of our shared humanity – and vulnernability.
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1,600 people die every day in the UK. That means that 3 million people will die in the UK over the course of the next Parliament (Parliaments are now a fixed five year term).
There’s fantastic care in many places. My mum, for example, died last year in the Alexandria Unit of Dumfries Royal Infirmary, which is like a hospice in an NHS hopsital. It was exemplary – and free – care of both my mother and us, her family, for which I am eternally grateful.
There’s also room for vast improvement in many places – especially in the current climate. Hospice UK research shows that almost half of all hospices – in England – have had their NHS funding cut or frozen in the last year. This is at the same time as facing an increasing demand for their services and added bureaucracy. I salute all the people who are coping – somehow – with this situation.
And that’s just hospices. The majority of people don’t want to – but still do – die in hospital and we’ve all heard about the care crisis and what’s being going on in hospitals over this last winter. I salute all the people who are coping with that situation too! Ay ay ay.
If you’re involved in the UK General Election (and local elections – local authorities are responsible for much of end-of-life care services), especially if you are having contact with candidates, please raise this issue with them. As usual, it’s not an area most people care to talk about.
If you need some information and ammo, Hospice UK have joined forces with a coalition of other end of life charities and produces a manifesto briefing and other campaign resources. To access click here: http://www.hospiceuk.org/policy-campaigns/campaigns/general-election-2015
Thank you! May all those 3 million have a ‘good’ death – whatever that means to each and every one of them.
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This is the best book about dying and death in twenty years – not least in terms of its widespread publicity and public impact – since ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ by Sogyal Rimpoche.
The way we die has always been connected to the way we live. And so it is now. 200 years ago, in the Western world, most people didn’t make it to what we now call mid-life, the average life expectancy was 31. In 1900 it was 48 for men and 52 for women. It’s now common to live into our 80′s, or even our 90′s, and beyond. The fact that so many people are living long, but are also spending years being frail and dependent, is changing the way we die. Here, at last, is a book about the inescapable thread of that from a man who knows how to be a change-maker.
The first half of the book is about how we now age. As well as the physiology of this (teeth, thumb muscles, feet and so on) he goes into the medical and institutional advances of the post WW2 period such as the invention of pace-makers, the development of emergency services and the explosion of hospitals. Gawande’s focus though is on the rise of the nursing home, a medical story with emphasis on protection and safety rather than allowing people to live until they die. One woman he talked to “felt like she was…in prison for being old”.
It doesn’t have to be like this and Gawande pleas for some imagination, citing several pioneering retirement communities (check out www.pioneernetwork.net). My favourite story is about the Chase Memorial Nursing Home and the revolution instigated by its new 31 year old Medical Director. Bill Thomas risked glorious pandemonium by introducing two dogs, four cats, 100 parakeets, real plants and inviting the staff ‘s kids in to play. Mutes began talking again, drug costs fell to 38% and deaths fell by 15%.
It’s all relative. On a to trip to see his 112 year old grandfather in India – whose life and death is another extraordinary story – he also visits a charity looking after 100 people in New Delhi. This is a place reminiscent of the unregulated and often squalid almshouses in the West that were the fate of the old and dying without family before the arrival of the welfare system. He sings the praises of the man who started this facility (and finds half of its residents on the streets), but it was also “as close to a vision of hell as I’ve ever experienced”.
The second half of the book concerns palliative care and dying with grace; with chapter titles such as ‘Letting Go’ and ‘Courage’. Gawande was advising Bill Clinton on health policy when he was 24. He’s now a surgeon based in Boston, a professor at Harvard and writes for the New Yorker. One of his previous books, The Checklist Manifesto, has helped save many lives. He writes not only with authority but also with rare and welcome candour about how inadequately prepared most doctors are for dealing with their patient’s mortality, and about the limits and failure of medicine.
Again and again on my ‘Death and the only beauty that lasts’ workshops we return to the importance of communication (and people leave feeling more confident of doing that). Gawande devotes a whole chapter to this called ‘Hard Conversations’. He argues that preparing, as a doctor, for a family meeting, requires as much preparation as performing surgery. He also understands that no one conversation can deal with everything. “Arriving at an acceptance of one’s mortality and a clear understanding of the limits and possibilities of medicine is a process, not an ephinany.”
He tells it how it is: “Our reluctance to honestly examine the experience of aging and dying has increased the harm we inflict on people and denied them the basic comforts they need.” He’s not pretending to be an all-knowing God-doctor and struggles with the ‘advances’ of medicine: ““Is she dying?” one of the sisters asked me. I didn’t know how to answer the question. I wasn’t even sure what the word ‘dying’ meant anymore.”” He’s also writing as a son who finally asks his father “How much are you willing to go through in order to live a little longer?”
This is a book by an American about the American experience (with a trip to India). There are clear differences with the UK experience, notably in our healthcare systems (though some would argue that gap is closing due to changes in both countries). Atul Gawande writes “We’ve begun rejecting the institutionalised version of aging and death, but we’ve not yet established our new norm. We’re caught in a transitional phase.” Seems to me that we’re in the same place here. This is a relevant and hugely helpful book for us too.
In fact, it’s publication is perfect timing for May’s General Election. In December, Atul Gawande delivered the 2014 Reith Lectures and was all over the UK media like a rash during the festive season. An ad in the Guardian declared Being Mortal to be Barack Obama’s xmas reading. Don’t only read it yourself (and talk about it) – send a copy to your MP, recommend it to your election candidates. And then pin them down! We need sustainable, long-term and imaginative solutions to the inevitable. Don’t let them be an ostrich.
This book is full of medical revelation and truth, helpful history, some amazing statistics, wonderful, often poignant, stories and raises many vital issues in an accessible way. He’s written it, he says, to better understand how we ended up in the position we’re in. It’s not only a great read. This book can help us change the culture of aging and dying in the 21st Century.
Atul Gawande is on lots of You Tube’s. Here’s a great twenty min interview with the Director of ehospice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJOz0vouZro
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The Assisted Dying Bill, discussed in the Lords in July, probably won’t become law this time – but that paradigm changing moment in UK culture around death is definitely on the cards now.
More Peers requested to speak on this bill than any other bill ever. There were 120 speeches in the ten hour debate on Friday 18 July. The bill passed its first major hurdle, its Second Reading, with no vote and no wrecking amendment either. The last time Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill was debated, in 2006, it was defeated by a wrecking amendment which secured 148 votes to 100. That probably didn’t happen this time as opponents of the bill weren’t confident they had enough support in the House of Lords to do that.
In the week preceding the debate some major figures announced their surprising support for the bill. Lord (George) Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, was an unlikely convert. Carey said his thoughts now focused on the suffering of the person and that alleviating that was now a higher priority for him than a doctrinal position. I thought that was quite an admission! Good old Desmond Tutu also waded in with his support, breaking the silence on how Nelson Mandela was kept alive/died and highlighting the importance of dignity in death.
There are still a lot of Bishops in the Lords, in far greater proportion there than they are amongst the public – 80% of who support this bill. Most of the bill’s opponents in the Lords are against it for reasons of Christian doctrine ie that the decision when we die is God’s and God’s only, in his own good time, though other reasons will mostly be cited instead of that.
The most common is the infamous ‘slippery slope’ – that this will lead to the forced extermination of all imperfect (ie the disabled) or inconvenient (older, dependent relatives) people. To me the ‘slippery slope’ argument betrays a lack of faith in the law, which is a tad ironic coming from law makers. (If you want to get to grips with all the details of the ‘slippery slope’ arguments, I recommend the superb last chapter in the recent book ‘Assisted Dying’ published by Dignity in Dying.)
The strength and humanity of this bill is that it aims to give the person dying the choice, not their doctor, nor ‘God’. It’s up to them, and no one else, whether to exercise that option. Who knows how often that option will be used. After 17 years of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, 80 people out of 30,000 deaths used it last year.
And the safeguards in Falconer’s Bill are solid. Two doctors, acting independently, must confirm a patient is likely to die within six months, is of sound mind, has decided without pressure, is told of palliative options, and is able to take the medication themselves, after a cooling-off period of reflection. A sunset clause means the law is repealed in ten years, requiring parliament to vote it in again. This bill slips down no slopes and…. that it’s now been allowed to progress into Committee stage means all the details will get a thorough working over (again).
It’s unlikely to become law this time because the General Election in early May 2015 means the Parliamentary year will be shortened and there won’t be enough time for the bill to complete the process of becoming law. But the 18 July debate will be remembered as the tipping point methinks. The majority of speakers recognised something has to be done to change this out of touch law and out of date law.
A change in the law is inevitable – not least because the Supreme Court warned in the Spring that if Parliament doesn’t make this Bill law, the courts will soon be forced to decree it legal. There’s been a campaign to change British law in this direction since the 1920′s. Parliament usually trails behind the public on so-called ‘moral’ issues.
One of the best results of the Bill was the increase in public discussion about the detailed realities of dying – and this in the summertime too! Another argument sed by opponents of the bill is that the right to die is a dangerous substitute for good care. ’Care Not Kill’, the placards read. Who could disagree with that? But it’s a disingenous argument.
For all the marvels that morphine pumps display, they are not all powerful. Studies show that pain control is complete in 60-70% of cases only. There are neurological pains and bone pains when people are dying that are hard to relieve. Several tragic and poignant stories of this kind had the chance to be heard in July reminding us, to quote Ann Munro who works with the dying in a large NHS hospital, that “It’s a lottery. You never really know what it’s going to be like.”
The hospice movement provides exemplary palliative end-of-life care to those fortunate enough to receive it. These days hospice teams help people die in their own homes too. But few people without a cancer diagnosis get palliative care – only 20% in Scotland according to research. When I read that I gave heartfelt thanks that my mother, dying from pneumonia in February, slipped in to the exemplary Alexandria (palliative) Unit in Dumfries Royal Infirmary (for people with cancer) for the last four days of her life. Every hospital should have a Unit like this, I thought , for all.
Most people want to die at home, or in a hospice. Most people die in hospital. Help the Hospices are aware of this and have recently boldly announced a campaign to increase the numbers of people who can take up their services. At the same time the Government has recently announced cuts in its already limited funding of hospices! Why am I bringing that up here? Because all these issues are linked up. Let’s keep the detailed realities of dying in the realm of public discussion – keep talking about it, with our friends, family and in our community. It’s the main way that change will happen, that suffering will be lessened. Let’s make dying in the 21st Century an issue in the General Election campaign. There’s 64 million people in the UK and they are all going to die…
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