- The Soul Midwife meeting here in Bognor
- Weight Blinking Watchers
- Age UK Friendly Neighbours Scheme
- Doula for the Dying Course in Lewes
The Soul Midwife meeting, the second of its kind and we hope the start of many more to come, happened here this week. We Soul Midwives are passionate about our work, and are longing to work with those facing the end of life. We know we can do it, we all feel the need to change the perception of death by making it part of life (which it is), talking about it, acknowledging it and helping to prepare for it. We have found though, that all of us work in different ways for the same end. For a while I was confused, feeling that I couldn't possibly do the work that the other Soul Midwives did, and I felt that what I had to offer was not good enough. I didn't know enough, I wasn't trained enough, I hadn't enough experience. And the subject is so big. How can we do anything to help anyone? How can I, a teeny tiny speck of dust, make any difference ever in a world a) full of people who know what they are doing b) full of people who don't know what they are doing c) full of people who long to know what they are doing and d) full of people who think I am barking.
To do any kind of Soul Midwife work, you have to sit alongside people who face the end of their lives. We work alongside members of other professions - doctors, counsellors, therapists for example. You have to be able to stay with them, to listen, to help if they ask it, and to do whatever it takes to make their last times here, alive, good, meaningful, bearable, acknowledged. This is a time to stop faffing, and to say what needs to be said. Do what needs to be done, listen to things that need to be listened to and at all times go with whoever is dying, as far as they want you to go, in order that their death is as best as it is possible for it to be. That is all you need to start. And a Soul Midwife is not just someone who sits with another as they are dying, a Soul Midwife can help at any time, for as brief or as long as it takes, along the journey from diagnosis to death. As long as we are there when called, we do what is necessary and what we can for that person who needs us, we are Soul Midwives. I remember once having only a text conversation with a dying lady, and that one text conversation was all that she needed. So that was the extent of my Soul Midwifing for her, it was all that she wanted.
There are Soul Midwives who are deeply experienced and are in the medical profession. There are Soul Midwives who run funeral businesses, who manage care homes, who offer complimentary therapies for end of life conditions, who do more spiritual and alternative treatments like Shamanism, and Angel Reiki. There are Soul Midwives who are looking for a path to follow, and have not found it yet, but are drawn to the work. There are Soul Midwives who volunteer at hospices, at care homes, Soul Midwives who are looking after family members, friends, friends of friends as they die, and there are Soul Midwives who teach and who help other people start their journey helping the dying to die. There are Soul Midwives who comfort someone sitting next to them at a bus stop, and move on because that encounter was all that was asked of them. I had a Soul Midwife encounter once with a man with months to live as we sat at Specsavers, waiting to be called for eye tests. It was all that was required, and he moved on.
And Me! And there is me who paints people at the end of their lives and takes the A Graceful Death exhibition around the country, and talks about whatever I am asked to talk about. To whoever will listen. As a Soul Midwife, I work with the dying by being gentle, loving, present, and by trying to listen. I do whatever I can that works, I do arty things, and fun things, and mostly I just watch and let them take the lead - but I have no training, no qualifications, no idea. I can't tell a kidney from an eyeball, I can't do alternative medicine, I can't chant and do singing bowls and I don't know how to get someone off the bed and into a coffin. So, returning to feeling that I wasn't as capable as other Soul Midwives, I felt myself overwhelmed by what I couldn't do, instead of concentrating on what I could do.
The Soul Midwife Meetings that we have begun to hold, which was at my house this week, is where I look into the eyes of other Soul Midwives to see that they too thought the whole area was full of things that they are not, and we all realised that we are absolutely fine. Good Lord, we all said, we are doing just fine and it is wonderful to put everything into context and carry on. It does not matter if I can't channel angels, or put in a drip successfully, or tuck someone neatly into a coffin so that they don't sit bolt upright after quarter of an hour. It matters that we do what we do well, and that we take inspiration from the other Soul Midwives that came to the meetings. And so, readers, that is what we did. And just to finish this Soul Midwife thing, I am working with a friend and Soul Midwife colleague from Brighton, to put together a plan of what we offer and what we can do, prices, packages, contact numbers and so on, in a leaflet which we will distribute to all and sundry. We want to pool our resources, and to support each other as we work in our own way, to the same end, of helping the dying to live well till they die, and to die as well as they can. The End. Or is it?....
Weight Blinking Watchers
I struggled. It was not that I was hungry, I wasn't, it was just that I had to weigh my food and not snack on egg mayonnaise while I cooked cheesy oven chips. I struggled, and I persevered. Today, at weigh in, I had lost a pound and a half. This is truly wonderful, but I wondered if it took a week to put on a pound and a half. I doubt it. It would take an afternoon to put on a pound and a half, and this struck me as unfair. However, that is the way it is, and if I am at present, a barrel of lard, then it is going to be sulks all the way back to being my normal size. I was terribly busy today, and promised myself a binge on something or other as a reward for being so thin now but it never happened. All I could do is eat 3 weetabix with a half a tin of fruit in fruit juice, and I still have one point to go. Good Lord, am I brainwashed, or saved? I did not want a lump of cheese. I did not care about toast. I had three weetabix when two are the norm, and pigged out on an extra godforsaken weetabix. It is a scarey world.
Age UK Friendly Neighbour Scheme
I have signed up as a volunteer for Age UK. They offer a scheme called Friendly Neighbours, which is what I am now doing. We visit the elderly who are socially isolated, and just chat with a cup of tea (no biscuits goddamn it, no weetabix either). The scheme lasts for 12 visits, and then the person being visited is reassessed to receive a more intense package of visits and help around the home etc. Today, I went to visit my first lady, and I had a ball. She talked about her life, and we drank tea, and she gave me invaluable advice on how to keep my partner, Alan, sweet. Give him a hug! she said, and when he comes in, make sure you look your best. And when he is not expecting it, give him a kiss! Men love to be kissed, she said. I bet they do, I thought. Alan would be pleased I think, to be kissed, but if he was watching American Football, he probably would not notice if I came in with a tea trolly on my head. So, I will go back to my lady next week. As we parted, she said Darling. Those earrings, they are not you. I don't like them. So I took them off and she said Ahh! Now, you are an executive, that looks so much better. Well, I like this lady and I never liked the earrings anyway. And I like looking executive. At least she didn't say Darling. You look fat. Ever thought of weetabix as an an alternative to all known foods?
Doula for the Dying course in Lewes
I have begun this Doula course in Lewes today, run by Hermoine Elliot of the Living Well Dying Well Foundation www.livingwelldyingwell.net. I was delighted to see that my friend the Soul Midwife Felicity Warner's book was there on sale, and I settled in to see what Hermoine's course offered me. It offered me a lot. I like Hermoine, I have met her before when I first tried to interest the world in the A Graceful Death exhibition and I have always wanted to go on one of her training courses. And here I am! On the first one and very excited about it too. Because I am back at home late at night now, having driven at 7.30 this morning to Lewes and arrived back here in Bognor at 8pm, and I am on Weight Blinking Watchers, and pooped beyond reason, I can't tell you the first thing about it except that I agree with everything and I think I am going to be a Soul Doula. Hermoine is thorough, and practical, and made me think a lot about my own reasons for doing this work. As I say, being exhausted tonight, I am blowed if I can remember what my reasons are, but it is OK, I think they are sane. It may be a good idea to write about this excellent course next week when I will be another pound and a half lighter and better able to communicate. No, it isn't linked. Yes, I will go to bed in a minute.
And finally -
I arrived home and despite being so weary, made a large vegetable stew, gallons of it for tonight with enough for my packed lunch in Lewes tomorrow, and have eaten it all while doing this blog.
I went to the National Portrait Gallery last week with my Mother, 82, to see the photos of the Queen throughout the last 6 decades. Mother is a little hard of hearing and called out to me, over the heads of many tourists and visitors, from one end of the gallery, where she stood in front of a very fetching larger than life sized formal portrait of the Queen, to me looking at a selection of photos on a wall on the other side, Oh I do like the Queen because when she sits down she doesn't fiddle with herself. Frozen silence for a second, then muffled coughing fits as people tried to pretend they didn't hear Mother and tried to stifle their giggles in their hankies. Mother has no idea why so many red faced giggling people were in that room looking at the Queen in the nineteen ninetys. She just thought they were odd.
Son, 15, has been traumatised by the breakdown of his laptop. It is in the menders, and so to help him cope, I have bought him what he wanted, a hamster called Gerald. Son, 15, loves Gerald, who is a wee dwarf hamster with red eyes. Gerald lives in an extraordinary creation that Son has made for him, with branches from shrubs in the garden, with chaotic climbing frames made from old video boxes, with buried piles of food in the sawdust, all inside a huge old hamster cage that used to house at least 2 large, not dwarf, hamsters. Gerald and Son have a bond. Gerald tries to run away from Son and Son tries to build him ever more complicated play areas. The cage looked a bit like a jungle last week, but I think that Son came to realise that dwarf hamsters are not like lions, and don't need undergrowth and trees to sleep under. Gerald is terribly happy, and so far loves his new life as a Facebook substitute. Son adores sweet little Gerald who being a dwarf hamster, will never grow to be tall, though he may grow fat. He has treasure troves of nuts and delux hamster food hidden by Son all around his cage. As we speak, Son is teaching Gerald how to play video games and I will leave them to it.
Good bye now. I must leave at 7.30am tomorrow and on Saturday and I need a bubble bath to make it all worthwhile.