Cirencester March Death Cafe: Clear out your stuff!

Eleven of us met up in Cirencester in Jane’s lovely garden lodge, surrounded by nodding daffodils and clusters of primroses.

Right from the start a distinct theme emerged, which focused on preparing for death.

“I would like to know the day and hour of my death,’ said one participant. ‘I like being in control, and knowing this would mean that I could prepare myself.’

‘Yes,’ said someone else, ‘I realise I have a lot of clearing to do. I have far too much stuff. I don’t want to leave a mess behind for my family to cope with. It’s not fair on them. I really need to get on with it.’

We were all in agreement about the importance of clearing out what we no longer need. One participant, who had cared for her terminal ill sister in the last weeks of her life, told us of how her sister prepared for death. ‘She wanted to deal with anything that she felt was stopping her from being at peace. Having terminal cancer really focused her mind, and it was if she ticked things off as she planned how she was going to die. She knew her husband and daughter were trying to ignore what was going on, so she was determined to do it herself.’

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Summary of the King’s Cross pop-up death cafe

20150511_163106This pop-up was co-hosted by Julienne McLean, a psychologist and Jungian analyst and spiritual director, based in north London. Julienne works with clients who experience bereavement issues throughout life.

Up until now, people who come to the pop-up death cafes have been personally interested in end of life care, or have family and friends who have died or who are dying.

Coincidentally, those who came to the pop-up at Kings Cross were all professionals in their own field who used creativity to help people to talk more openly about end of life issues.

So this café had a very different feel to it even though it was just as interesting and rewarding as the previous ones.

One participant had worked with a children’s bereavement charity for many years, and wanted to work more directly with the dying.

One was part of a theatre company, researching for a potential project about  the issues surrounding dignity in dying,

One was a television producer, researching for a three part series on end of life issues, including assisted dying.

One ran a training programme for volunteers in North London, which empowers communities to plan for the final years of life.

One worked for Age UK as a project manager, coordinating volunteers and organisations to have conversations around putting plans in place for end of life.

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Cause of Death: reaching the end of life

I have now had a chance to reflect on my concern over Liz Kershaw’s Sunday Times article (20th Feb), Cause of Death: the NHS (only accessible to those who to subscribe to the Times On-line).

It is about her experience of how NHS medical staff treated her 87-year-old dying grandfather.

She starts the piece by saying, ‘Tell you what: why don’t we just put a pillow over his face and finish him off?  Day after day’, Liz continues, ‘I witnessed the deliberate withholding of nutrition that resulted in his ‘accelerated, yet agonising and undignified death.’

I too, have witnessed the death of an elderly person in an NHS hospital.  He was my 87-year-old bull of a father who was struck down just over two years ago by a massive stroke.  But, I had a completely different experience from Liz Kershaw, as I have also discussed in my book, The D-Word: Talking about Dying.

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Pace-maker fitted for 97 year-old woman. Has the world gone completely mad?

I appreciate that care for the elderly by the NHS has become a contentious issue, but has the world gone completely mad?

My friend Diana popped in for a cuppa, and proceeded to tell me how her 97-year-old godmother has just had a pacemaker fitted. Since her godmother had expressly told her that she’d had enough of life, and wanted to die, Diana was understandably horrified.

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A lesson well learnt about the importance of living wills

Living in the same location as two octogenarian couples is a salutary experience.  One couple, Brian and Enid, are fully engaged with the reality that time is running out.  The other couple, not.

Let’s start with Brian and Enid (all names have been changed).

Knowing that I had written a book on the dying experience, hand-in-hand Brian and Enid tapped on the door the other night and asked to talk to me about their decision to make a living will.

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