Friday, 2 November 2012

Spirit of Caring Conference.  I Care!  I Care!

I arrived at the conference centre in Northampton at 5.30 pm last Tuesday, for the Spirit of Caring, Spirituality and Well-being in End Of Life Care conference, run by LOROS.  Cousin Maddy was waiting for me;  Cousin Maddy had arranged to take time off work and home to come and help me to set up A Graceful Death, she knows how much work there is in doing each exhibition and offered to help.  And she is good, very good, at setting up and thinking outside the box.  We set about unpacking the exhibition from the car into the room where we were to exhibit.  This is where being part of a conference is the bees knees.  The young man from the conference venue assigned to us to help with the setting up kept longing to bring light and joy into our lives - we would say, can we have a 23" screen to play the film on?  When he returned with a brand new one from the stock room, we would say, oh but may we have some really big earphones to go with it?  In purple?  And off he would rush to the stock room and come back with purple earphones.  We need some Chinese lamps and an elephant we would say and whoosh.  Off he goes to the store cupboard to get us a Chinese lamp and an elephant.  Maddy mentioned tea.  I'll get you some!  said our conference genie and off he goes to fetch a tray of tea in a teapot, milk, and so on.  There will be two more of us to help you tomorrow, said this glorious creature, and your wish is our command.  Good Lord, said Maddy, three conference genies!  Let us write a list and leave it on the white board so we remember what we want tomorrow.  I did this, and to remind me of why I wrote the list (more coloured pins, another small table, some display stands, a holiday home in the Lake District, all my Christmas shopping etc) I wrote it under the name of the conference genie on duty the next morning.  I hurried into the exhibition space at 8,30 the next day, as we only had a few hours to complete everything, only to find the genie had been in at 7am, seen the list, clicked his heels and gone off to find everything on it.  And then, he had more or less finished the display of brochures, fliers, tissues, stuff.  I walked in and everything had been done.  I saw you had left me a list, he said, and rushed to do your bidding.  Thank you conference genies.  May you come with me everywhere I go, and may my life always be this easy. 

We had spent till 1am, getting it all in order.  Or perhaps Maddy spent till 1am getting it all in order.  I unwrapped the bubble wrap, pointed to places, asked our conference genie to bring us a table, then another table, then some more tea, then to sort out the film to run on a loop on the big screen, and so on.  While Maddy, little creature that she is, was climbing onto tables to find ways of exhibiting my art in the best way possible for the exhibition and me, I helped her by telling her I was going to find some more drawing pins and that I needed to find a pen.  Maddy did a lot, and I helped her.

I wanted to help Maddy but someone had to take the photograph
The next day, after breakfast Maddy went to buy the flowers and came back with three bouquets and a carrier bag full of chocolate, which she said I needed.  I do need it, she is right, and I have been telling delegates here at the conference that if they come to the exhibition I have lots of chocolate and wouldn't that be nice for them?  I remember in the Harry Potter books, that the cure for a Dementor's visit was to eat some chocolate.  Maybe in some way I was saying Come to the exhibition, you will probably be upset but like in the Harry Potter books, you will be cured by chocolate.

All the time that we were setting up, I was aware that I still had to give my talk.  I was due to start the proceedings off at 2.30, and as the first speaker set the mood for the day.  Setting the mood for the day with paintings of death and dying, I reasoned, will be either a very good thing, or a very bad thing.  Maybe, I began to think, as Maddy worked hard and I ate chocolate, I have nothing to say.  Maybe I won't remember anything.  Maybe I never really knew anything anyway.  But we all know that is rubbish, and even if I don't follow a plan, even if all I do is tell stories of funny things that have happened to me while working with the dying, I can fill an hour.  I may be asked to leave the conference early, but it is not likely.  I did speak, and I did tell people what I thought of things, and then I showed some of the paintings on a big screen from my computer.  It was very effective.  I think it was quite hard to be in the audience and seeing these images for the first time, and I have had feedback that a few people were upset.  Maddy got up and said a few words too, because she has been on the AGD journey with me since the beginning, and also Sam Reynolds, Soul Midwife and dear friend, spoke of the use to which she puts images of the paintings in training her Care Home staff in Soul Midwifery.  Sam, and Paul Blaker (another Soul Midwife and friend) have set up a very simple and effective model of training for soul midwifery for carers and care homes.  Go to  and see.  Sam and Paul are inspirational.  Take it from me, and we now know that I can fill an hour not talking rubbish, so I am reliable and the boss.

Maddy left after the first day, having a life of her own far away from me, and I have been left here at this conference with old pals Sam and Paul, meeting new people and learning new things and having a very inspiring time.  The exhibition is here for the three days of the conference, I open it at 8am and closed it at 10.30pm.  It needs to be accessible to all the delegates who are busy attending talks and workshops, and can only get to it in fits and starts.  There has been a bit of feedback, and I feel that this set of people is different to those in other AGD exhibitions that I have had.  I wonder if it is because all of them are dedicated professionals working in palliative care, and many of them are from Universities, and they will need time to assess what they are feeling.  I will get feedback from the conference organiser and it may not be what I hope for, everyone will have to rate all the speakers and workshop leaders for the conference leaders to assess.  (Exhibition would have been better without the Chinese lamp and the elephant)  (First speaker needed to tell more jokes about working with the dying). Some people have come and talked about themselves and the work that they do, some have talked about liking the exhibition but only a few have a personal story to tell.  Interesting, most of the reactions are about a professional life, not about a personal life.  One lady wrote me a poem today though and I am delighted.  It has gone up on the Wall of Words instantly.  Only a few people have let their guards down and talked of themselves and how they are in relation to the exhibition and I consider those few to be very brave.  Given the nature of this conference - Spirituality and Well being in End of Life Care, with all the very dedicated professionals here, plus chaplains and those concerned with spiritual matters, it must be quite hard not to feel a little suspicious of other peoples take on end of life spiritual matters.  No one wants to be the first one to get beyond the professional persona and do the feeling thing.  So going into AGD in fits and starts is a rather helpful thing, it means you don't stick around too long and remember your granny or your brother who died, and let the side down by feeling a bit sad.

I have two new paintings for the exhibition.  Caroline Soar -

Caroline Soar.  Caroline's partner Bette has sent a love poem which I have added to this painting.  I knew Caroline, and remember when we talked about her being in the exhibition that she was so helpful with, none of us really believed we would do it.  It is strange that she is gone, and we did, after all, do a painting.  

Winnie being cared for by staff at Woodleigh Christian Care Home.  Sam Reynolds, the manager of the care home, and Soul Midwife, has trained all her staff in Soul Midwifery.  She requested this painting to show the love and care that her staff give to the residents at Woodleigh. 
Here I am then, in a magnificent conference venue in Northampton.  My room is double, huge, fancy and the bathroom large and all mine for the stay.  There are three cooked meals a day for us, and tea, coffee and water available around the clock.  I am treated with courtesy and kindness by all the staff (I sound disabled) and my dear friends Sam and Paul are here.  But I am very very tired.  I am in the exhibition doing my AGD thing from early morning till late at night, on top of which I have opened the conference with a talk that can only be called eccentric.  I love doing this, but I must remember to take time out or I will be greeting people in the exhibition and saying, You think you have problems?  Listen to this!  I got to bed after midnight and was up at 6 and there is no personal feedback in the exhibition and, someone ate the Mars Bar Maddy bought me.  So let's get this into perspective!

So now, I am writing this in bed, it is Friday morning, and it is time to start the day.  Tonight I pack up and go home.  It is my youngest son's 16th birthday today, and I am going to arrive at my 82 year old mother's house, where son is staying, late tonight with all my exhibition in the car, and gather him in my arms and tell him I love him.  He is 6'5" tall.  He will react as he always does, like a large puppy hound, and think Play!  Mummy wants to play!  and try his newest Judo move on me, over the shoulder and flat on the floor.  Back to normal then, I will say, as I fly through the air.  

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