I felt a need to create this website for both personal and professional reasons.
On the personal front, after living a very active life (long may that last) I realise the next big adventure for me is my aging process and eventual death.
Far from feeling morose or maudlin about it – I firmly believe that we can only feel truly alive when we accept our mortality – I want to be as prepared as I possibly can be for what is to come, especially the way I die.
Talking professionally, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by the fact we are all going to die. This deepened whilst I was training as a nurse at the Middlesex hospital in the early seventies. I laid out my first body (nurses did in those days) when I was nineteen. The patient was only thirty.
As students we never spoke about what happened (death and dying wasn’t addressed in any teaching programme), but caring for him and others who died during my training made me ask myself all kinds of questions about death: What does it feel like to die? How long does it take to die? Will I know I am dying when my time comes?
I left nursing soon after I qualified and did a host of other things, ending up in the corporate film and video business. This by now was the mid eighties when hedonism was rife. I entered into the fray with relish, but soon discovered that this way of life lelt me feeling empty and unfulfilled, but most of all, lonely.
Everything changed after being involved in a light airplane crash. Sitting beside the wreckage, thankfully unscathed, physically at least, I was hit by a profound and uncomfortable insight. It was time to grow up. It made me embark on a fifteen-year soul-searching journey to discover – or more accurately, uncover – the purpose of my life. I subsequently trained as a psychotherapist, specialising in trauma, death and bereavement.
My journey eventually led to an MA in the Rhetoric and Rituals of Death which I gained at King Alfred’s, Winchester in 2001. I knew at last I was on the right track. It was one of the best years of my life, and one of the most fun too. I shall never forget going behind the scenes of a crematorium, or our visit to Rome for a private audience with Pope John Paul II.
(‘Private audience’ was a bit far fetched as we found ourselves part of a crowd, the size of which was worthy of an FA cup final. The most raucous groups appeared to be from South American countries, madly waving enormous banners declaring devotion to the Pope and screaming, ‘El Papa,’ as the aged Pope John Paul tottered onto the stage, helped on each side by a hefty cardinal.)
Following my MA, I had the great fortune to meet Dr Peter Fenwick, and helped him to set up a five-year retrospective study into end-of-life experiences. Our primary aim is to raise awareness of medical staff on the importance of respecting the spiritual needs of those nearing the end of life.
During the study, my father died. It made me realise how little practical information was available for relatives, friends, and carers of the dying. So Peter and I decided to write our booklet, Nearing the end of life: a guide for relatives, friends and carers (now available on kindle).
All information in the brochure can be accessed via the death and dying button on the menu.
Due to generous sponsorship from the Aim Foundation we have distributed over 30,000 of these brochures free to hospices, hospitals, care homes, GP surgeries, and relatives in need of help and support. It is now used in many palliative care training programmes and included in end-of-life care resource packages. I am particularly delighted that Dying Matters (set up by the National Council of Palliative care in 2009) incorporated it into their own end-of-life resources.
I have also written my own book,The D-Word: Talking about Dying published by Continuum Books in 2010. My aim is to tackle the awkwardness and embarrassment that many people experience when confronted by someone who is dying, and to explore different ways to open up often difficult and distressing conversations. The book again, is used in many end-of-life care training programmes, and is, I understand, recommended reading for many trainee nurses. I was also interviewed about it on Woman’s Hour: Talking about dying with Jane Garvy (Tuesday, 28 June 2011)
Part of my preparation for entering later life was to come to terms with the menopause. I look at it as a powerful rite of passage – the time in a woman’s life when she is forced to confront the fact that she is no longer young. Some women fight it. Others accept it. But very little is spoken about the emotional and spiritual changes that a menopausal woman goes through. So I set about interviewing over seventy women and nine men partnered or married to menopausal women.
The result is my book, Sex, Meaning and the Menopause. The mens’ interviews became the banner headline in the Daily Mail: Will your marriage survive the menopause? I have been on Woman’s Hour twice, talking about different themes from book.
Marking the transition into Menopause: 19th, November, 2012
If you have any questions, comments, or even stories about your experience of talking about the end of life, or, indeed, about your experience of the menopause and aging, please do get in touch, or you can leave comments at the end of my blogs.
I run workshops on the menopause and end of life issues, and individual mentoring sessions for people struggling to make sense of life. If you would like more information about these workshops or individual sesssions please get in contact.