Monday, 18 August 2008
DEATH, DYING AND CONVERSATION
In the last year every time I go for a walk by water I'm looking out for a heron. It's become something of a talisman for me. Or if you prefer my sacred creature.I didn't know what it represented.
On Saturday I found out from the wonderful witch that is QV the story of the heron and what the bird represents.
It is the bird to accompany the souls on the way to the other world when they reach the end of this.
So really it's not surprising that I have a thing about them, as I have a thing about death to.
Not in the way that I'm frightened of it, far from it. I've seen too many people die over the years. I've had many experiences giving people hope enough to live. Or comfort to help them die
When I was 16, as I've told before, there was the girl the same age as me who'd taken an overdose and I sat beside her for an hour or two giving her hope that life was worth living.
At 17 I made a decision that was far reaching at that point. It was in the days long before mobile/cell phones and a young lad rang from a phone a mile away from his home to the ward where his grandmother was being treated. Only to be told by a completely inept doctor that gran had died. This to me was a horrendous thing to do to another human being, to be so callous in the telling about a death. I made the decision that when I was in a position that I could affect change that only I would tell people that their relatives had died.
I qualified as a nurse at 21 and in those first few months, I got to really know someone who was dying. I was close to him and his wife, and I was with them both when he died. This was in the days of not really being encouraged to get to know patients, and it was only cause I was a Staff Nurse, and bolshy that I got away with this behaviour.
So when I got made a Ward Sister at 24, I implemented that change. I refused to let any doctor tell the relatives in the first instance that the person they cared about had died. I made a room for relatives and I sat with them as long as needed. I really cared that this passage of time was treated with respect. Then if they needed to know medical facts only then would I get the doctor involved.
I sat with people who had been told they had terminal cancer, all day if required, and on their bed holding them also if required.
I moved from nursing to psychotherapy and ran bereavement groups. Helping people come to terms with their loss.
I told my mother that she wasn't going to recover from her appalling cancer,and that she was dying.
I have dealt with my own mortality in recovering from breast cancer.
All of this has been in the past, so why now has the heron become so vital to me.Is it a sign of a new direction I should be thinking of going. I haven't lost any of my passion for helping people experiencing dying, either themselves or their relatives.
I cannot abide the sweet platitudes used to describe death, like 'passing over', 'passed away' 'slipped away' 'gone to a better place'
In Victorian times death was such a revered thing. Black was worn for a very long time, rings were made with beloved's hair in them. But they didn't discuss sex. Nowadays it's totally the other way. Sex is everywhere and death is not talked about at all. So it's no wonder when we have to deal with something that actually is the one certainty about being born that we get so tangled up in guilt about letting anyone else know we are scared.
So lets get death out into the open, we're all going to do it, people around us are going to do it. Lets stop hiding it as shameful.
After all as the quote says.... "Grief is the price we pay for love". And love is what we spend our lives searching for, so doesn't it make sense that we prepare for what will be the most painful thing any of us have to deal with emotionally ,that is coming to terms with grief, isn't time we stopping being frightened of something so normal?