A report by Deva Ritama (aka Kate Rudder)[pictured right] – member of The Sammasati Project team and 2012 training participant.
The ‘Dying Matters’ Be Prepared Day was in a preparation for the ‘Dying Matters’ Awareness Week, which is running from 13-19th May. During the afternoon there were a series of talks from people working in care homes, trauma specialists, nurses, funeral directors and bereavement counsellors. They spoke of how people can be cared for and treated, both the sick and the carers. It was interesting to see how the people providing these services view their roles; to notice that they were honest enough to admit to the areas that need improvement, and to hear how they hoped to improve them.
There is an initiative started by The Lewisham Pensioners Forum, whose sprightly members have created a leaflet providing space in which you can write down your funeral wishes. Once this is submitted, your details are then entered on a data base that can be accessed after your death. Then family and friends are not left ignorant of your wishes. Of course not only the elderly but all of us need to be aware of getting our affairs in order. We prepare so well for a birth; why not also for our death?
I found the most moving and informative sessions those in which true experiences were recounted by two of the speakers. One of them had had a near-death and in his talk, entitled Life’s Shocking Unpredictability, spoke of how, as a 19-year old, he had been faced with death. In fact it was very light-hearted while also serving as a reminder that we never know what will happen to us from one day to the next. I asked him how, having had this experience, he felt about dying. He responded that he had no fear and lived every moment to the full.
Whilst it is important to have an understanding of how institutions/systems work, the true stories inform us of how it is to be within the system. Struggling with a grim diagnosis, and trying to get as much help and care for loved ones can be, and often is, a battle. We will always want what we feel is the best for our family and friends.
It must have taken some courage for the second speaker, recently bereaved, to tell her story. After months of her father being moved from one place to another, she found the perfect place for him to die. Why was it so perfect? Because of the respect and tenderness with which he was cared for. Because of his being recognised as an individual, a special person who, as we all are, was worthy of a special death.
In our culture, where typically death is not spoken about or looked at until the last moment, we do not allow ourselves time to become reconciled and at peace with its reality; on the contrary death is often seen as something to be scared of. In the ‘Dying Matters’ community (and by the way, The Sammasati Project is a member!) all aspects of dying are looked at.
We can create the best death for ourselves if we spend time considering how we would wish it to be. Then we give those around us the chance to really be present when the time comes, rather than simply being a passive victim of the system. Not everything may go to plan – death, like any other aspect of life, is unpredictable – but by being aware of possible scenarios and preparing accordingly, some elements can be taken care of before the event. I came away with the realisation that what can often be missing from many aspects of caring for the dying is acknowledgement of and respect for their individuality. By not speaking of death it becomes something to be frightened of. By not putting our wishes about how we would like to die clearly in place we forfeit our individuality. We are not giving ourselves and those who care for us permission to honour who we are and have been on this journey through life.