Nan Maitland, ending her life with courage and dignity

Woman Commits Suicide to Avoid Old Age, was a front page Sunday Times headline.  Immediately I imagined some poor, pathetic, lonely old soul, without friends or family, reaching the end of her tether, and killing herself in a horrible, grisly way.

Reading the story I realised how sensationalist and misleading this headline was.

Eighty-four year old Nan Maitland, who suffered from arthritis, planned her death, to my mind, purposefully, courageously and without drama.  In the note that she left behind, she made it clear that she had no wish to enter a prolonged period of painful decline that many elderly experience these days before they die.

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Japanese Shinto versus man-made nuclear horror

I was hanging up the washing, when I imagined a Japanese woman of similar postmenopausal age living in Sendai,  doing exactly the same task last Friday, just before the earth heaved and the tsunami came crashing in.

Then I thought, there must have been tens of thousands of people drinking tea together, or shopping, or sending an email, or making love, or quarrelling, or tending to their child, or perhaps taking a moment to daydream. Normal everyday activities that people from the world’s third largest economy take for granted.

All wiped out.

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Japan’s tsunami and giant jellyfish

This might sound a bit callous, but I don’t know what has been more shocking for me today: watching footage of the devastating and of course tragic tsunami that has struck northern Japan, or seeing a disturbing photograph of a gigantic half-tonne jellyfish, one of millions that have apparently gathered off  Japan’s western coast.

I don’t think anyone can remain untouched by the live television footage of the tsunami sweeping away entire villages and towns as it pushed inshore. Just watching it online, I felt completely helpless. However for me, the gathering of those jellyfish tells us something even more important.

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Mandela not in danger! Of what? Dying in his nineties?

After announcing this morning that Nelson Mandela has been admitted into hospital for tests, BBC Radio 4 News continued by saying he was ‘not in danger.’  Much loved though he is, Nelson Mandela is 92, and as far I am aware, not immortal.  Clearly his body is beginning to pack up, and he is getting ready to die.  That’s what happens to people who reach this grand age.  Attributing the concept of danger to this is, for me, ridiculous.

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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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