I have the most wonderful Podiatrist called Naresh and we have very interesting conversations about life, death and the universe while he tends to my tootsies. One of the questions he nearly always asks is what I’m reading. Last time I was there I was reading All That Remains: A Life in Death which was a fascinating look at our bodies after death and we had a wee chat about that. He knows I have a fascination with helping people achieve a ‘happy death’ and asked if I’d read Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. It is written from a medical point of view by an American doctor but there is much in it of a spiritual nature. Much of it is Case Studies of people he met who were given a terminal diagnosis and how they wanted to end their days. I’ve enjoyed reading it and been saddened by how society and the medical profession often treat patients. (Often, I said, not always. I am aware there are some good stories out there.)
One passage which caught my eye and gave me cause to pause during the Lenten season was this paragraph:
As our time winds down, we all seek comfort in simple pleasures – companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight on our faces. We become less interested in the rewards of achieving and accumulating, and more interested in the rewards of simply being. Yet while we may feel less ambitious, we also become concerned for our legacy. And we have a deep need to identify purposes outside ourselves that make living feel meaningful and worthwhile.
As I get older I can appreciate those sentiments. Recently I had a health scare which really made me think about what was important in my life, and accumulating ‘stuff’ which I don’t need became a real issue for me. I then spent a few weekends selling ‘stuff’ on Ebay and taking things to the charity shops. I thought about what was important to me and it was about spending time with family and reading more and worrying less. I also knew I had to sort out papers and get rid of so many files and magazines and books which I was holding on to unnecessarily. This is a work in progress!
Lent is a good time to let go of what takes us further from God. To let go of temptations which take us down paths we don’t need to travel. To let go of achieving and accumulation and focus on simply being.
There has been much talk of the Liverpool Care Pathway on the news this week. It looks as if it may come to an end and I, for one, say hurrah. When I first heard about it I thought it was a great idea. Using the Hospice model people should be allowed to die with dignity, surrounded by family rather than machines. However it didn’t always work out that way.
I know of one woman who found out that her husband had been marked down as DNR without any conversation with her. Perhaps they did speak to her husband but as he had dementia he might have said anything. She was deeply upset and not ready to let him go.
I know my own mother’s death (in a hospice) was just awful. Not a happy death at all. But as I’ve spoken about this elsewhere on this blog I won’t go into it again.
However, this week something reminded me of an occasion, not so long ago, when I was visiting one of my old folk in hospital. She had been going downhill and as I sat there I recognised that it would not be long before she died. I knew she had no family or anyone to be with her so I asked a nurse what the doctors were saying and was she likely to go soon. Firstly the nurse said she couldn’t discuss the patient with me because I was not ‘family’ but after much persuasion (and I mean much) she did agree that she possibly might die soon. “How soon?” I asked. Because I’d thought I’d like to sit and be with her so that she wasn’t on her own. It was then that the nurse started telling me about the Liverpool Care Pathway. I told her I did know about it, having been a p/t hospital chaplain. “Well,” she retorted, “we will be taking care of her.” I mentioned that there was also a ‘spiritual’ part to the LCP and I would like to help in that part. “Oh that’s not about religion!” she said, “Spiritual is all about her having clean clothes and nice things about her.”
I don’t think I had anything to say to that. Somewhere along the way, in a teaching class, or on a busy ward, this nurse had been taught the LCP. In all possibility she was taught by someone with no religion, or even someone who was hostile to it. I’m not saying that having a clean nightie and brushed hair is not part of your spiritual needs but it certainly isn’t all of it. I had been bringing communion to this woman for months and we had talked often about her imminent death.
Perhaps this is partly why the LCP is not working. Perhaps ignorance, hostility, or embarrassment is why some hospital staff just don’t know how to talk about end of life things in a religious context. Or maybe it was just this one nurse. All I do know is that there needs to be more communication, and especially listening.
PS And yes she did die that night on her own. If they’d phoned I would have gone.
PPS I love nurses.