I hope you had a lovely Mayday whatever you did. In my case, my partner and I got up very early to join the Mayday launch of the Swindon Festival of Literature. Except we had the wrong day and so arrived to watch the beautiful clear sunrise all alone in the Lawns in Swindon. It was absolutely beautiful and I was grateful that we had been motivated to get out of bed by the thought of some joyous mayhem and a hot cup of tea. In the end we watched a magnificent sunrise and then got a beautiful walk admiring the bluebells in our local wood without a soul in sight before coming home and getting back into bed with some breakfast. Extraordinary isn’t it how refreshing it can be to get up earlier than usual, take a nightwalk or just do something outside our usual routine. It does not need to be anything elaborate to shift our perspective a little.
May has become a special month each year due to the fantastic initiative begun by the National Council for Palliative Care. Dying Matters week runs between 9th-15th this year with events being held all over the country to stimulate conversation around dying. Deliberately placed in the spring in order to encourage us to think about the end of life just as spring is bursting into life, whilst our Festival sticks with the more traditional time of year when the cycle of nature turns towards dormancy for the winter. Do visit the website and see what might be happening near you. www.dyingmatters.org/page/AwarenessWeek2016.
Or just decide to hold a Death Cafe in your home and invite some people around for a delicious slice of homemade cake and some time to talk about the subject of death and dying. www.deathcafe.com. It is so simple to organise and so rewarding.
I was asked this week what got me so involved with the subject and as is so often the case the answer is close experiences of death and dying. What particularly drives me is knowing that I could have done with a bit more support myself even though I did not necessarily see that at the time.
I was talking to an audience recently of the moment when the funeral directors arrived to take my mother’s body away after she had died. At the time I had no thought of caring for her at home or real knowledge that could be a possibility but I did know they had arrived too soon for me. But because they had come a distance and because I was still arriving at understanding fully what had happened I did not say please go away and give us another couple of hours just to be with her. Such a simple thing to do but instead I watched her being put into the back of their vehicle knowing it was not really what I wanted or felt was helpful for my father. And I had done a lot of preparation and thought I was as ready as I could be for my mother’s death.
I was very impressed when an audience member shared a story of going to visit her mother’s body and seeing that she had lipstick of totally the wrong shade on her face. She insisted it was changed. I was so glad to hear that story because these moments can be extraordinarily painful and it was great to hear she found her voice and in so doing protected other members of her family from that jarring experience. With my father’s death (as with my mother’s) we had talked openly and communicated well with the staff at his home, his GP and my family knew what he wanted. But I did not see that when his last days came I might need support for myself as I sat with him in order to support him better or that he might change his mind about some things. I am an only child with no cousins or aunts and uncles, I had young children at home and I felt I had to just cope. I can see now that if I had created some better backup for myself those last days would have been easier for all of us.
Again very simple but our patterns in life reveal themselves in these moments. I am a coper. I admit I am proud of being a coper. But that has its limitations and I am learning to take that lesson back into my living as well as those crucible moments when someone is near the end of their life. I do think the value of all of this is how it shines a light onto how we live. That is what matters. Dying matters because living does.
The festival of living and dying, created in 2012 by Liz Rothschild Sponsor Page