Saturday, 29 March 2014

Conversations, End of Life Chats, and a new Jesus on the Tube

Following on from last week's blog, in which I wrote about my time with Elizabeth Way Funeral Services in Lancashire, I woke in a panic one night this week.  I had dreamt that Mr Bedford and I were due up in Lancashire to take a funeral together.  As happens in dreams, I didn't stop and explain that I am not a funeral director and that I can't possibly do it, instead I went ahead with my preparations, such that they were, in a state of bewilderment, to go up to Lancashire and take this funeral.  In the dream, Mr Bedford was absolutely no help at all. He didn't react or have any opinions, he just kept packing his suitcase.  No way to get a funeral done, I told him in the dream, as I tried to work out why on earth we were doing it, at the last minute, all the way from the South Coast of England.

Gail, at Elizabeth Way Funeral Services.  I am grateful that she is not preparing this for me to take over.  Thank you Gail.
Indeed, I am due up again to see Elizabeth Way Funeral Services on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.  No one is going to be buried or cremated by me, a great relief for us all.  I am joining owner Gail Martin Stevens and her colleague Tami to pilot the first of many informal conversations with the public about preparing for dying in our busy world.  We aim to set up casual drop in sessions with tea and cake (of course) so that members of the public can come in and talk with us, with each other, on all matters end of life.  The aim is simply to start the conversation.  After this first one we are doing together, Gail and Tami will do it in their area, and I, God bless me, will start in Bognor Regis.

It is so hard to find the right time and place to talk about these things.  Why on earth should we? Death, dying, all that kind of stuff, such enormous topics, how on earth do we start?  What words do we use?  Where do we begin?  What if we are laughed at for being weird?  The subject touches us all, we know that, and intellectually, we all know we are going to die.  But some of us don't allow ourselves to accept it.  It is so very appalling, so very unbelievably terrifying, that we will do anything to avoid it.  In any shape or form.  And then, someone gets ill, someone has an accident, someone dies - maybe you become ill yourself, and the reality that death is here hits you with the force of all the denial and fear turning in on itself, and you go under.  When we are faced with something terminal in our busy lives, when we have done all we could to either avoid acknowledging death, or that we are just inexperienced, we have to take a crash course on end of life matters at the very time we are in no fit state to do so.  When my partner Steve was dying, I muddled on through, not knowing what on earth was happening or what to expect.  I didn't have a clue what to ask, what I should know, or where to go.  It was close friends who took me in hand and told me in gentle but clear words that I could understand, that he was going to die, and soon.  I had no idea we could talk about it, Steve and me.  I had no idea anyone could talk about death.  I'd never come across it before, it was not something that could possibly happen to me or to anyone I knew.  And yet, I knew how to look after him.  I knew what to do for him, I just didn't know that what I was doing was right or that I could get help.  I know an awful lot more now, with hindsight.  I also know that if I had been prepared a little more, we would have coped so much better.

From the A Graceful Death exhibition.  Steve and I arrive at the hospice, for his last week of life.  I  didn't see the extent of his illness, I was with him all the time and had no distance from which to look in from outside.  I still did not know how ill he was here.  
This is why Gail, Tami and I are setting up these informal, conversational drop in opportunities to create a safe and normal place to start asking questions. Questions you always wanted to ask, but felt you shouldn't. Like, what do you say to a dying person?  Excellent question.  What dies a dead person look like?  What indeed!  Good question. Does dying hurt?  When should you write a will?  How do you bring up the subject of care and last wishes with an elderly parent?  Someone's husband has died in my road, what should I say to her?  And so on.  We say, let's talk it over.  We have a venue booked for two hours on Wednesday afternoon, and we will see who comes and what happens.

I was talking with someone recently, who is coming to terms with the diagnosis that her cancer will not now go, and is not, after all, curative.  "It was important for me," she said, "not to come home after my discussion with the consultant, to an empty house.  I needed someone with me, someone to stay with me and to let me talk it through.  Can you imagine," she continued, "coming home with that kind of knowledge, and sitting in silence at home, letting the fear and dread engulf you?"  She went on to say that the worst thing for her was the lack of certainty.  Would she live with this cancer, or would she die?  It would be good to start people chatting about these things, so that if someone else comes home to an empty house from a frightening diagnosis, the neighbours may feel confident to help.  This ties nicely into the compassionate communities idea that I have spoken of before.  I feel very strongly that the answer to so much of our loneliness and isolation lies in community action, community spirit.

Moving swiftly on, this Wednesday, I am delighted to publish a guest blog on Old Age (I Am Not Old, But I Am Getting Older) by Alan Bedford.  Alan is not old, but is getting old-er, and writes of how it feels to suddenly realise that other people may think one is old.  Thank you Alan, I think you are very young.

And, I have revamped the A Graceful Death blog so that all the relevant information (dates, times, talks, speakers and so on) can be accessed there as well as here.  The link is

It is late.  Time has marched on.  It has marched on so much that the clocks are going forward tonight, and tomorrow I shall be all of a muddle.  To finish this week, and before any muddle sets in, here is the latest Jesus on the Tube from the Valentines special offer recently, half the price double the love.  The first five to respond to the offer got a half price Jesus on the Tube.  Here is the McKenzie family on the tube with a Jeus of their choice

A personalised Jesus, all of your own, to sit with you and your family on a tube train of your choice.  It does not get better than this.

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