“I’m thinking so much about where I am in my life, and its ending…I want so much to think, write it all out, talk about it, but I don’t have the energy or the engagement. My brain’s so tired…The reading, the books that have flown my way via all kinds of people – yourself included, thank you – have all fed in. Where do I want to go? I want to make meaning.” Hospice correspondent
In 2006, a fortnight after the safe delivery of my first child, I suffered a sudden and immediately life-threatening arterial haemorrhage. I saw the light; believed my life was ending. This near-death experience changed the course of my life, leaving me – as such events tend to do – with an urgent and lasting wish to use my experience to benefit others.
In October 2010, after completing counselling training, I was privileged to join the St Peter and St James Hospice in Sussex. Working from within the Wellbeing Services team, I became a scribe for those who – at end of life – discovered a need to record memories or perspectives.
Working both at bedside and in clients’ homes, I would arrive a stranger and leave charged with what mattered most to them as they prepared to die: Letters to family; stories of childhood memories; books read aloud and recorded to leave for their children; notes made on photos and other personal items they would be leaving behind.
“How we die, how we care for dying people, and how we carry our dead: this work makes our village life, or breaks it.” Stephen Jenkinson
In 2014 I was lucky enough to attend a day-long workshop with Stephen Jenkinson, a former program director in the palliative care centre of a major Canadian hospital, whose philosophy – how to live, how to die – I share.
In his book Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul, Jenkinson delivers a passionate message about the skills of dying, skills that have to be learned in the course of living deeply and well.
The documentary film Griefwalker about Jenkinson’s work is difficult but essential viewing for anyone who dares to die wise.
I also recommend this New York Times article on the life and work of doctor B J Miller.