It is supposed to be Good Death Week here in Scotland. Whilst this isn’t happening on the usual scale (having been repurposed to Compassionate Communities Week 27 April – 3 May 2020) we still wanted to mark the occasion.
Yesterday would have been our Pastoral Care conference, where we had speakers from St Andrews Hospice, Scottish CARE, NHS Humanist Chaplaincy, and others. We hope to have these brilliant representatives back in the room one day soon, but for now the focus is on getting through this storm and working to stay connected. In that respect, you should be receiving the Spring edition of the Newsletter via post in the coming days. I hope you find this an uplifting read and pass it on to anybody who might be interested in our charity.
I’d like to share with you a short blog, written by FATE trustee, Julie Lang. For those of you who know Julie, you won’t be surprised that she is up to interesting and purposeful things. Like so many of our members, she is continually finding ways to grow and learn, proving that no matter what stage of life you are at, there are opportunities out there.
I hope you enjoy this short read.
Conversations about life and death
I am a postgraduate researcher with the University of Glasgow’s End of Life Studies Group. It’s a fairly uncommon retirement project, and when interested friends and acquaintances ask what my PhD is about, I can give them a number of answers, not all of them helpful. ‘It’s a combination of creative writing and social science’, would have many eyes glazing over in seconds. ‘Examining how contemporary writers deal with death and dying’, might spark an interest in those who read a lot. But here’s the thing, when I simply answer, ‘death’, there is a sharp intake of breath, a momentary hesitation, and then I find myself in a meaningful conversation. Every time. It’s as if I have given permission, opened a door, switched on a light, allowed people to talk about the one absolute certainty in the cycle of life. In my experience, even total strangers become engaged and animated when the subject is death. We may have different opinions and beliefs, but for many there is comfort and a sense of freedom in having a dialogue. This is the principle of the Death Café movement, an informal gathering (with coffee and cake) to encourage discussion about dying, death and bereavement. For the participants, it is an opportunity to express ideas that they may not even have shared with their families, and to hear the views of other people, in a friendly environment.
At this challenging time, when we cannot gather as before, it is even more important that we talk to each other about death, our own, and those of our dear ones. Far from being grisly or morbid, these conversations can include thoughtful planning in advance of a sudden event. They can determine our final wishes and the wishes of those we love; some of them might be surprising. They can propose a framework for our care that will be a boon to medical and nursing staff in a crisis. Above all, once we know that we have planned for our death, we can move forward to make the best use of our living.
Friends at the End https://fate.scot/ offers advice on Advance Care Planning and guidance on legal and medical issues around illness and death. Staff are available online or on the phone to help with any concerns, or if you just need someone to talk to, as many of us will in the coming months.