Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Poems from beyond the grave

Extraordinarily moving to find this piece

one of the last poems written by an African poet, Kofi Awoonors, killed in the Westgate Centre in Nairobi.

Who knows when death will come for us?

Sometimes we have an inkling.

Sometimes we just write of what is sure to come

one day.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Emereging template for a good death: baby boomers want to change the way we die.

The emerging template for a good death isn’t all about choosing your moment, though that is the biggest part of what is changing. And much of what makes a good death today has long been the case. Here are the key aspects of a good death:
  • Control of the process You want to make decisions around all aspects of your illness and be certain that your wishes will be followed even if you are unable to see to it yourself. “People want more control in the months and days leading up to dying,” says Megory Anderson, founder and director of Sacred Dying Foundation. “They have clear ideas of where they want to die, who is with them, and what medical intervention is used.”
  • Open Communication You can’t be in control if you aren’t getting an honest and coordinated discussion among doctors, patient, and family. This should include frank talk about chances of recovery and burdens of treatment on the patient and family.
  • Broad support You want to know the medical staff will stay to the end; that your family is on board, finances are not the deciding factor, and that professionals will help you prepare emotionally. In The Good Death: The New American Search to Reshape the End of Life, author Marilyn Webb writes: “There is recognition of the need for family strength, an understanding that the good or bad legacy this death creates will endure in family lore.”
  • Spirituality Many look to their religious traditions during the dying process. But spirituality encompasses much more than faith and traditions. It’s about creating a peaceful and comforting environment that may incorporate prayer, meditation, music, and candles. This is highly personalized and may provide the kind of signature departure that many boomers demand.
  • Minimal suffering Today’s powerful medications make it possible to relieve physical pain while remaining lucid longer. But mental suffering can be acute too, and one way to relieve it is by placing limitations on treatments early in the process and clearly delineating what measures are to be taken to keep you alive. “More end-of-life-care clinicians are coming to the understanding that aggressive treatment doesn’t universally deliver better quality or quantity of life, and isn’t always in the best interest or reflect the wishes of patients,” says Colleen Wadden, director of external communication for Providence Health & Services.
  • Meaning Boomers have always sought a better way. They want to feel their dying experience is just right for them. This is what drives the hospice care movement, where terminally ill people get the care they need to live long enough and with minimal pain to go out on their own terms. “Death is seldom good, desired or welcome,” says Dr. John Shuster, chief medical officer at Alive Hospice in Nashville, Tenn. “The task is to help patients and families bear what may seem unbearable, to work toward relief of as much physical, emotional, and spiritual distress as possible, and to enable patients to live well during this precious and important time with as much meaning and dignity as possible.”
  • Closure Unsettled affairs make death more difficult. You want to use your final days to make sure loved ones are cared for as best you can, mend fences, and leave memories. “Baby boomers build and preserve meaning through narrative, and the telling and sharing of important stories,” says Shuster. “This is healing for all ages. Celebrating and focusing on important relationships adds meaning to life, especially in the setting of a life-limiting illness. An advanced illness can be the stimulus to heal important broken relationships.”

Read more:

Sunday, 14 April 2013


      (i.m. Elizabeth McFarland)
It must be easier if one believes
The soul's immortal, and survives someplace,
Say in Heaven, where it keeps its face
And to such singularity each cleaves,
Or, as in childhood, when I used to think
That souls were points of light in the Milky Way,
Casting their sight on us, as though to say
Between two worlds there's but a casual link,
And whenever someone died a brand new star
Would suddenly appear in the distant sky;
There'd be no dissolution, then, to die,
Existing ever, a grain of light, afar—
But you and I, free of such superstition,
Lived and loved each other with each breath,
And now I know the love that transcends death,
Keeping you in memory's inner vision,
But where is personhood when one is gone?
As body is reclaimed by earth, or flame,
Does Death's sharp saber-tooth exempt a name
So those who loved you feel you linger on?
You, when young, dreamed you'd become a tree,
Where words gathered among your blossoming
Branches, bickered, birdlike. You made them sing,
As now, in verse alive with bel esprit
Don't fade into your photos ... for you lift
My spirits, those of friends, and of all who feel
The joy, the wit, the passion your lines reveal,
So like your love, an imperishable gift.

I really like this one
Simple and thought provoking as I see pictures of Gill change on my screen

Thursday, 22 November 2012

New health care strategists ignore the needs of people at the end of life

The National Council for Palliative Care, the lead charity for Dying Matters, has released research today which reveals just 28 of the 83 newly created Health and Wellbeing Boards with public strategies have considered the needs of dying pe...See More

The figures in the telegraph come out a bit different but it is the same story

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Minstead Day of the dead

 It has been a most extraordinary time, a Samhein like no other.

It is sometimes said that the festival for the end of the Celtic year ran for 12 or thirteen days and included much feasting after slaughtering animals which could not be kept through the winter. 

With KTB starting in mid October and DOTD, being on Nov 3 the whole thing has been going on for over three weeks. 

I only managed to get to a handful of KTB events, and I have still not written them all up.

As I write this afternoon my old and very dear friend Mary Duhig has been cremated near her home in
Cornwall. She died last Monday. Fare well, Mary. You helped me rebuild my life and reach a peak or two.

Denise, her friend and carer will have been collecting the ashes.Mary did not want a funeral. I was able to add Mary's name to the book of thoughts and feelings on the altar at the Minstead study centre, where I travelled last Saturday for the Day of the Dead celebrations.

What an event it was; like rolling all the events in the kicking the bucket festival into a single day.

It was also the first chance that I have had to contribute a workshop myself.
I led an hour's session on my book about grief, and the writing of poetry as a creative response to the grieving process. Eight people came to the session, which was quite pleasing, but only three wanted to stay to go on a guided meditation and to write something at the end of it. Then we shared the words, symbols and images that had come to us in the course of the experience.

I gave people my card and suggested they might like to send me their writings on line at some point after the day, if they wished to share them.

 This was a curious installation that greeted me as I walked up the the round house to hear a brilliant story about an old man and his seal woman family in Scotland. I was asked what made me most alive. I thought of my loved ones, living and dead. It was written on one of these red ribbons and pinned on the black dress of death. Then I went on to the round house.

Taprisha , , on the right read the stories in the round house. I loved the rhyming structure of the story-most unusual and so well read.

Coming away from the round house I passed again the figure of death with her red mistress.
Here someone meditates on what makes her most alive.
                                                                                                     Her daughter, maybe?  Jude and her mother of the Lymington group.

                                                                                         Who is this with the beautiful death mask? I resisted the temptation to have my own face painted.

Everyone enjoyed the puppet show under the green man.  

                                                                                   The altar where I placed the remembrance for Mary and my Gilli

Towards the end of the day I made a fire fairy, something to take to the bonfire for a ceremonial goodbye to the dead.

My fire fairy heads for the fire.

I decided to leave a little early as it was getting dark and I had forgotten to bring a torch to guide me on the country path back to the car. My apologies to any and all to whom I did not say good bye.

There are so many things left unsaid, like meeting Rosie from the Natural Death Centre for the first time, like talking to Deb and Chris about it all at various intervals as I moved about, like cups of herb tea with ginger cake. and parsnip soup with a roll. I even managed to hear humanists talk about their funeral services. I talked briefly to Atcha about her death and dying workshops, which I am planning to start leading myself next year;
my own version that is!

I am so glad I went, even if I got lost on the motorway going south and wrong again going home. I have three volumes of NDC literature to add to my dead good funeral guide from KTB. I shall be busy reading,studying, thinking and planning.

I have started very informally as a guide/coach to Denise through the process of death dying and bereavement. The timing is good as it was when I first started work with Mary Duhig many years ago.

Monday, 29 October 2012

It's your funeral. So why not make some plans before it is too late

28th Oct - 2.45-4.45pm | Design your own Dead Good Funeral – workshop. 

Friends Meeting House, 43 St. Giles, OX1 3LW | Map No 8

After attending some truly awful funerals John and Sue, founders of Welfare State International, decided to try and improve things. Using their skills as artist, writers and musicians,They started Dead Good Guides which creates new traditions of secular rites of passage and offers training to independent celebrants.
This workshop will discuss case studies, dispel common myths, demonstrate the nuts and bolts of planning a funeral, inspire you and give you confidence in developing your own funeral wishes. You will come up with a framework for a personal ceremony you can take home and discuss with your family and friends.

Having looked them up on the web and been immensely impressed by their history of creating arts in the community and bringing funerals to life for many people, I had high expectations of this workshop and was not disappointed.

I wrote down the suggested balloons for the different aspects of making my funeral plan and added the numerous dimensions, but I hardly made one clear decision.

With Holly's mother having had a friend as executor and six months to plan hers, she had it all down to the fine detail,
.She got her white Rolls Royce and her coffin in blue velvet with silver stars. She had the catholic funeral service followed by a trip to the crematorium for close family and friends.

But I think I need to talk it all over with Gabrielle and the children before I do anything. After all, they might ignore everything I have in mind unless I make some lawyer the executor and get him to disinherit them if they misbehave. I am not going to do that.

Cousin Christine managed to give all her wealth to Mind despite the fact they never did anything to help her. There was even a clause in the will which allowed them not to spend it as she would have wished.

Given that I am very likely to die within twenty years I want to make plans now, so that my family are not left struggling with trauma and shock while trying to guess my desires, after my little red sports car crashes off the cliffs. I am always aware of how suddenly Gill dropped dead next to me.

Gill left no will. We were unsure about what she even wanted for her boys.

I don't want that for me.

There is another reason to do it now. 

If I want to be able to help others through death and dying I had better at least have my own house in order.

There is an even better reason too, which leads right back into this workshop. 

Death needs to be reclaimed for life and the living. It has been anaesthetized and commercialized to the point where everything is determined by money and Victorian tradition. 

How many really dead funerals have we all been to?

Queen Victoria died 109 years ago. But the way we do funerals has become ossified in rituals that have not changed since the nineteenth century.

Yet we have Jung's archetypes and Campbell's Creative Mythology to draw from now in thinking about living our dying. Though many have lost faith in a transcendent God, they find solace in an immanent God or Goddess in the world of nature around us.

We have the vast resources of the internet to draw on in dreaming and planning.

What is more, in these cash strapped times we can do things so very much more cheaply if we take matters into our own hands. Who needs a hearse?

John and Sue took us through lots of examples of the work they have been involved with over the years in Cumbria.

When they first put out feelers to the world to explore how to make funerals more creative people flooded to them from all over the world.

One of the main themes was the way so many people have moved away from the old religions without losing a sense of spirituality.

The funerals people create these days tend to be filled with natural symbols. God or Gods and Goddesses are discovered and worshiped by people in images taken from the world of nature around us.

This workshop followed on directly from the Pitt Rivers Fish burial. Someone even asked about advertizing on coffins. The Pitt Rivers had chosen a coffin covered in advertizing ads for their shop keeper funeral. Why they had chosen this empty commercial idea is explicable in terms of their exhibition on trade and trading places, but it was so lacking in the wonderful creative art work that this same coffin makers in Ghana was producing and still produces.

Here in this workshop we saw people collectively gathering to make felt shrouds or add pictures on to a white shroud. So much art work can be made digitally today.

We explored legal issues.

There are few legal requirements.

It is possible for family and friends to do everything themselves.

It was touching to hear of one group finding seven shovels for mourners to bury the dead person. It took just eleven minutes to fill in the soil over the coffin.

All of this is so much easier to do if you know how long you have to live. Many people at least know how many months they still have if they are terminally ill.

I am just not sure I shall have the energy left then though. I may become depressed.

I plan to offer my help to people who are dying to help them through the process as coach. 

I bought their dead good guide to help set the ball rolling.

The theme of the funeral symbolizing what the life has been about seems a profound idea to me.

But what symbols to choose for me? Is it too early to say what my life has been about, when there might be so much left to come?

Friday, 26 October 2012

Philosophy and Death, another kick at the bucket

25th Oct - 7.00 – 8.30pm | Life and Death – discussion. 

Blackwell's Bookshop, 50 Broad Street, OX1 3BQ | Map No 7

Three thinkers and writers discussing the question, 'What is a good life and how should we live it?' and how does the knowledge of mortality affect the answers to this question? Nigel Warburton,philosopher and podcaster ( joined the Open University in 1994 and is best known for his introductory philosophy books -, Roman Krznaric, a cultural thinker and founding member of The School of Life -, and Neel Burton, a psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, wine-lover, and perpetual student -follow him on twitter and facebook. An evening of thoughtful conversation to challenge and engage us all.

 always remember the debates between Profs Mackay and Flew on philosophy at Keel University.

They were a class act, their cuts and thrusts honed from years of practice and a genuine wish to educate rather than bore the student audience.

You could not hope for that from a scratch event. But the  standard I have had set is high and this did not come near a good level of debate.

However, Roman Krznaric is a real discovery. He is carrying on and may be improving on what we were attempting at the Oxford Centre for Human Relations twenty years ago. I warmly recommend you to explore his website's connection with Zeldin's Oxford Muse  

I am intrigued by his idea that newspapers should have a death style section to go with their Lifestyle section.

I also like his idea that we should study the late medieval period and the early renaissance period to learn how to live creatively with death. I told him I would explore that with poetry at the Ashmolean. 

But Roman has already come up with the idea of a completely different kind of museum, a museum of empathy

Empathy Museum

My ambition is to establish the world’s first Empathy Museum:  a creative space where you can explore how to view life from the perspective of other people. It would be the opposite of traditional museums, with objects hidden inside glass cases. Rather it would revive the original meaning of the word ‘muse’ – the Muses of mythology injected a divine spark into everyday life – and be a place of experiential and conversational adventure. The Empathy Museum is a work in progress, and collaborators on this project include the sustainable designer Sophie Thomas, ecological artist Clare Patey, and film maker Rebecca Dobbs. Some ideas for what the museum might contain are available here.

I found my late wife Gill through a personal column ad "Poet seeks muse". She was all of that for me. 
I shall now go to explore the Oxford Muse and other of his ideas. 

Sadly, the other two philosophers had very little to offer. Neel Burton's thesis that all anxiety is based on death is flawed. They all agreed those of us still alive have not died. How can a psychiatrist, whose work should be evidence based, claim anxiety is based on something none of us have experienced?
Nobody contested this. Small children have no consciousness of death but they feel anxiety.
If anxiety comes from anywhere it is from primal experiences in the prenatal and perinatal matrices. Read Stan Grof's "The human encounter with death" if you want to find out more, or for a brief summary try my
There was one point where the discussion became almost interesting. Roman challenged Nigel Warburton about his thoughts on how deceased loved ones impinge on our lives. Warburton simply appealed to our humanity. It might be the best response, but it simply avoids exploring the philosophy of love loss and bereavement. Roman did not pursue the matter.
I am off to see the light at the end of the tunnel now so I will post this. The philosophers did not mention near death experiences. Mine certainly made a radical shift in my understanding of life. It also had a radical effect on my fear of death. 
With so many of us having come back from the other side or the very brink of it you would have thought it would have come into the debate.
But they all seemed to agree we are all on a level playing field around death
Not true, I say.