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Sunday, 16 February 2014

Father Dominic Rolls (Julia)

A peaceful Sunday afternoon.  I sit on the correct sofa in my lovely sitting room, with a pot of tea and some lunch, and think of Father Dominic Rolls.

And so, this week, we will start with my youngest brother, Dominic.

Father Dominic Rolls is a Catholic priest running a huge parish in Dorking.  He is also my youngest brother, (I have three brothers).  I remember my mother bringing him home from the hospital for the first time.  Dom and I did not get off to a good start, I had requested a girl called Julia and my mother brought home a tiny cross eyed boy called Dominic.  It was not what I had ordered at all.  Poor Dominic spent much of his first year in and out of hospital having his eyes corrected, and so I don't remember much of him in the beginning, but I do remember his presence being one of sweetness.  I also remember my other brothers and I thinking that his crossed eyes were brilliant, and it wasn't fair that he had them and we didn't.  We used to take off his eye patches to get at the little plastic tube within each plaster to help ventilate his poor little eyes.  Dominic was so little, and so sweet, he was in effect, a sitting duck.

Having been trained for the priesthood in Rome, Dominic was ordained in 1993 at Arundel Cathedral with huge celebration and joy.

Last week Dominic, at 50 years old, was operated on for stage four advanced bowel cancer.  There is a suspicion that it has spread to his lymph glands and possible spots on his liver.  Dominic had had no symptoms, except that he had been continuously very tired and under the weather, and had gone to his doctor.  Within two weeks, he had had to wind up his affairs in Dorking, hand over his parish to another priest while he was away, find a place to go to after surgery, and undergo drastic surgery to remove the tumour.  The surgery involved removing much of his bowel, in fact, to me, it seems as if much of his lower stomach has been removed.  Dominic has moved suddenly from being a busy priest looking after an enormous parish single handed, on call night and day, being a teacher at a local Seminary (where new priests are trained), being a speaker at conferences on issues of faith, and being a jolly nice, kind and deeply dedicated fellow, to being extremely ill, his prospects of life and work uncertain though hopeful, and unable to look after himself for the near future, and utterly powerless and still.

I love Dominic, he is my brother.  Not only that, he is my youngest brother. I want to help him, I want to be on hand, I want it all to go away, but I remember him over the past fifty years being just Dominic. Now, instead of me being there for him with a gentle presence, I am needing him to help me.  I am needing to hear him say he is OK, I need to see him smiling, I need to hear my other brothers and my mother telling me he is doing well today. I know that this is testing Dominic deeply, and now more than ever, his faith has to carry him along.  As a priest, he is required to say his office every day and if he can, to say Mass every day too.  In the hospital, on the ward, he will do the best that he can, but everything is different now.  He is weak, he is having to start again, and nothing is certain at the moment.  This whole year is given over to very drastic and dramatic treatments, and we know that difficult times are ahead.  In fact, they have started.  Dominic said that this will teach him to be a living prayer, to do the best he can from his illness, and I think he is right.   But goodness me, this fellow that I wished was a girl called Julia, is taking on his cancer not just for himself, but for all of us, his family, and the whole of his parish and beyond, too.

Father Dominic Rolls, not Julia.  I have accepted he is not called Julia.

News From The Studio

In the studio this week, I have been painting Jesus on the Tubes.  I have been plugging my earphones into my laptop, and listening to eight hours of rain sounds on You Tube.  Yes, there has been real life rain falling outside, and yes the wind has been throwing trees, bushes and things in my garden around like confetti, but I have found that I can forget the world, become one with whatever I need to, and tune in to a recording of someone else's rain fall somewhere else in another part of the world.  Real life doesn't do it for me, it has to be on You Tube.  I delivered one nicely completed framed Jesus on the Tube last week, but as it's a present for someone, I dare not show it to you in case it has not been presented yet.

A Graceful Death news - oh the Brighton AGD is going to be so good.  Team AGD Brighton, those amazingly talented and hard working folk that I am honoured to be working with, have come up with such good speakers and ideas for our talks and workshops within the exhibition.  A Graceful Death, the exhibition and project, is next showing in  from 20 to 23 May, from 10am to 6pm, in St Peter's Church, Preston Park, Brighton.  It is part of both Dying Matters Awareness Week, and part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. For the four days that it is running, entrance is free, and the talks, workshops and discussions on matters to do with the end of life are also free, but donations are requested.   As soon as the speakers are confirmed, I will let you know well in advance who they are and what they will be speaking about.  This particular AGD will involve speakers from the medical professions, doctors, consultants, nurses and lecturers from Brighton University.  We are also hoping for input from the Chaplaincy at Brighton Hospital.

Next week, I will be speaking at St Helier's Hospital in Sutton about the work I do with end of life and art.  It will be a good opportunity to speak about working one to one with people with a terminal or life limiting illness, through painting, drawing and words. I think that creativity, expression and the opportunity to do so, is important at all times in our lives.  But I am passionate about enabling those who are dying, to find a way to express themselves.  The arts is a wonderful way of making visible what is so difficult to understand.  I aim to work one to one with people on a project that will be their swan song - a final work of creativity to be left behind, given away, shown publicly, or taken with them after death.  I am calling my new project Swan Song Stories. This is why I have chosen the name -

 "The Swan Song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement.  The phrase refers to an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song in the moment just before death."

It will be part of the A Graceful Death project, though the work that is created will be private and just for the individual I am working with.  Swan Song Stories is something that I am creating just now, and it has met with much interest.  More on this as it unfolds.

Before I conclude, I have two guest bloggers that will be published on this blog on the following two Wednesdays.  This Wednesday, the 19 February, Mandy Preece has written a very personal and beautiful piece on Vigiling, sitting with the dying and their families as the dying occurs.  Mandy Preece is my dear friend, esteemed colleague, and a very experienced Soul Midwife.  She works within the Macmillan Unit of her local hospital, and is on call for the last hours, minutes and moments of life, supporting and sustaining all those that need her at that moment.  She is a wonderful, kind, funny lady.  Read Mandy's guest blog on Vigiling next Wednesday.

The following Wednesday, 26 February, Alan Bedford has written about not leaving what you want to say to those you love, until it is too late.  Alan is a dear and supportive friend, has had a very successful career as an NHS Hospital Chief Executive, currently working deeply and at a very high level within child protection, and has links to hospice work.  Alan will write about how despite doing very well at most things, he always felt growing up that it wasn't good enough, and how this affected him and his relationships with others - with the risk of doing the same to those he loves.  Alan's blog will resonate with us all, and is something that we all understand.

Now, I am going to cook.  Giant Boy has come in and asked for sausages.  Doesn't matter how much I write and want to get lost in my wonderful arty world, Giant Boy will always need feeding.  I can imagine working on a deeply imaginative Swan Song project with someone who needs to get it finished, when I am handed the phone.

I will have to go, I will say in a fluster to my person, Giant Boy is hungry!

Go!  They will cry, I understand.  I will hang on, come back when he has had his pudding, and all will be well.

This is the son of the person who ordered a girl called Julia in 1963 and got a priest called Dominic.  Giant Boy's face says it all.