Dying to get there

dime

I returned as a volunteer recently to the Mallorcan association, Dime Cuenta Con Nosotros, a group of dedicated volunteers who visit the two palliative care units on the island.  It has been some years since I have spent Tuesday mornings visiting patients and their families, but I am happy to be back for a number of reasons.

Death is a topic I am curious about, a curiosity that has been there for some time, years in fact.  I don’t know where this curiosity came from, but the subject of death has always been a healthy and matter of fact topic present in the background of my life.  My earliest memories of death was attending the funeral of my beloved nain, my father’s mother, up in North Wales on a windy day.  My younger sister and I spent the time of the graveside ceremony running amok through gravestones and having a rather fun time.

Some years later when I was about 13 years old, my mother picked up the newspaper one day and asked if I knew a girl named Sue.  The headlines explained how her father had shot her whilst she slept and then shot himself, apparently desperate with financial troubles.  My mother broke the news in a very natural way, and I remember that whilst I cried from shock, part of me felt that I didn’t have to cry.  Certainly my mother treated the subject naturally even though the setting was horrifying.

As I headed to my twenties, grandparents died at home, suddenly, not ill but just time for them to go.  Death was celebrated as a life well lived and a death well had, I was blessed, very blessed to have these experiences.  Not everyone is so lucky and death is a subject that brings with it fears, confusion, mystery and for perhaps a few a certain understanding.

Returning to Dime is an honour for me.  There I meet professionals working in the health sector, dealing with death in a dignified and respectful manner.  From the nurses to the doctors, from the psychologists and social workers and to the volunteers, all are learning from their experiences and learning all the time.  Training is given on a regular basis to the volunteers and Dime is fortunate to receive the support of some amazing individuals on this island.  Thanks to charities like Cala Nova Cancer Care Charity Shop, their fund raising and generous donations allow Dime to do what they do which is sending volunteers like me in to visit the many patients facing perhaps one of their biggest challenges ever.

What do I do?  I enter a patient’s room and politely ask if they would like a visit.  In a hospice setting this adds to the quality of care received by the patient.  Why?  We provide support to those inspiring individuals who work in the day-to-day care and treatment of those with cancer and perhaps other life changing illnesses.  We are incognito, we come and we go.  We listen and hold hands and if we need to, we can cry with a family member.  We can try to take them away from their own day-to-day, just for a moment.  Or perhaps we’ll be blessed to help them face what’s ahead.  We can hear what is not said if we are silent, and we can give and spread love for a while, as much as we can.

It is an honour to be part of the team at Dime and it is a privilege to spend time with people facing challenges I cannot imagine.  I can’t change the world, but I can change my attitude about life and perhaps I can, just for a moment, provide a listening ear to someone.

 

Dime Cuenta Con Nosotros relies on donations and are always grateful for support.  If you would like to be a volunteer and have languages, Spanish necessary, then please contact them directly – http://www.cuentaconnosotros.es

Justice, at a price

What a week it was!  Great for me, not so great perhaps for Esperanza Aguirre, President of the Partido Popular Madrid branch, who resigned amidst yet another corruption scandal in the party!  Oh well, good news for some it definitely was!

I also had my first ever visit to the inside of a Spanish courtroom and I went through many emotions whilst there – disbelief and disappointment amongst them.  I was there to support my friend whose son was up on charges for resisting arrest (I really don’t blame him) and I was impressed by his maturity, honesty and handling of the matter in the courtroom.

However, I was more than a little surprised and occasionally stunned by the other participants in this drama!  At one point, one of the lawyers for the prosecution told my friend’s son to kindly address her and use the formal you, the same as she was using to address him.  I’m sorry – what did she just say?!

As a speaker of Spanish and having grown up without a formal you in English, I have long had my own issue with the usted, the formal you.  I waiver between feeling insulted when it is used to address me, especially with those who are younger than me, as well as feeling quite uncomfortable.

It’s one of those situations that has me constantly on my guard – do I use it, dare I not use it?  As a consequence, I have made many mistakes in my 24 years of living in Mallorca, sometimes not using it and receiving very clear messages that that is not acceptable and occasionally being given the freedom to throw it to one side.

The moment the youngish lawyer said that to my younger friend, I realised just how great the gulf is between people.  At no point had the young man lost his respect to this individual; at no point was he rude to this person or any of the others – six more esteemed colleagues including the judge were in the courtroom.  I felt it was entirely unnecessary for her to stop him mid-flow and point this out to him especially as he had not really addressed her with the informal you.  It seemed a clear case of “mind your place” and “I am so much more than you” and it was a shame, especially as the qualities demonstrated by this young man on this particular day were those that make the world a much better place – honesty, respect, humility, repentance, a willingness to move on and above all, a better wisdom and understanding about himself and life in general.

The soap opera continued with the testimonies of the other three young men implicated in the case, and again they were consistent with the story, as well as honest, open and respectful.  I could not say the same for two of the five police officers I managed to hear.  What a situation!  Their stories differed and at times made no sense, indeed the lawyers for the defence were as puzzled as the rest of us.  At one point, when the same lawyer for the prosecution, read out – once again – the list of insults my young friend had apparently hurled at the police office, the policeman actually said he was used to such insults but couldn’t explain therefore why such a physical altercation ensued.

Obviously I don’t work in law enforcement and can’t comment on the training received, but I can comment that what I saw that day were two officers disillusioned with their jobs, burnt out with the absurdity of it all, but more worryingly, buying into stereotypes as to the type of people who surround them.  I can more than imagine that on a regular basis they have to put up with aggression, bad manners, physical threats, rudeness, insults and more, but I can also see that they “see” certain people in ways that are not real.

It is time we looked beyond the make-up, beyond the stereotype and that goes for both sides in this case.  The policeman could look beyond the young, male skater and my friend could look beyond the uniform.  Perhaps if two years ago they could have been given the opportunity to truly hear the other’s story, we could have avoided this sorry spectacle of waste: energy, time, money and spirit.  Perhaps the police officer could have heard a young man’s passion for his sport, needing to practise it every day, living a life that is creative, disciplined, supportive and adventurous.  Perhaps my young friend could have heard of a man’s dreams that led him into the force and perhaps how those dreams were not all he imagined.

We have to go back to court in one month to hear what the sentence will be.  The prosecution changed her mind and now wants three years instead of two.  I hope it gets thrown out where it belongs and I hope my young friend does not have his life ruined from one mistake.  Sadly, that’s all it takes nowadays, one mistake.  However, if you’re a politician or a member of the royal family in Spain, you can be let off for planning a longterm systematic theft of public funds!  There’s still time though, watch out people, justice might just catch up with you.

Living and dying

I recently went to an event at the people’s cinema in Palma, Cine Ciutat, organised by Dona Sana Feminista.  Various clips of films showing different dying scenes were shown.  The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro), based on the true story of a man who spent 28 years fighting for the right to end his life was shown as well as The English Patient, One True Thing and Whose Life is it Anyway.

The event, “La muerte forma parte de la vida” (death forms part of life), also heard the views on death and dying from two eminent and respected doctors.  Dr Carlos Barra, member of the Spanish association Derecho a Morir Dignamente (the right to die with dignity), and Dr Enric Benito, senior consultant in palliative care and in charge of the Balearic palliative care units.

What struck me about the clips and the debate afterwards was firstly that the topic of death is everywhere.  From Death Cafés taking place all over the world in which the subject discussed is death – my own participation in this has monthly meetings well attended here on the island – to end of life care, soul midwifery, green burials – it’s become a 21st century concern and a one that is changing perceptions everywhere.

Dr Barra talked about freedom of choice, democracy and dignity whilst Dr Benito talked about spirituality and transcendence almost promoting healthy dying.  They agreed on dignity and that things need to change in terms of care and support as well as choices.  I felt that whilst it is important that dignity and choice are paramount for people in moments of pain, what wasn’t discussed is how we live life.  Dr Benito did touch upon this by suggesting that people die like they have lived.  The room seemed to take an in breath at such a suggestion but I liked what he said.

What does that mean, to me?  Choose a life of happiness is a start.  Choosing relationships that allow me to grow, choosing to learn from challenging moments in my life, choosing good health over medication – the list goes on.  I chose home births for my two boys.  Why?  Because I could.  I had healthy pregnancies and I wanted them to be born to people they knew, in a setting that was calm, quiet and above all, stress free.  I could have chosen a hospital birth with strangers, maybe the same doctor who would have seen me throughout my pregnancy might have been there.  Along with bright lights, forms to fill out, questions to answer – but that wasn’t for me.  My list of choices affects the education of my children preferring small and alternative to big and standard; my working habits at this age of my life have also been chosen with me in mind.  In fact I have never been poorer financially as I am now, having chosen to give up a well paid job some years ago to forge ahead in a new direction – one that is satisfying, one that is helping others and one that fulfils me.  When I die, I shall chose to die in a healthy way, whether I am ill or not.

I remember my good friend Rufus who died of cancer some years ago.  He was well supported by his partner, my good friend Jo, and lots of friends besides.  The weekend before his death, we friends gathered at his home to support him and Jo.  We knew that Rufus wanted to die there and we wanted to respect his wishes as much as possible, but at the same time, this was a decision that affected Jo too.  It was decided that he would go to Hospital Joan March, up near Bunyola, where they have a specialised, palliative care unit.  He was admitted on the Saturday.  The care there was excellent.  It was attentive, it was peaceful, it was accommodating and it was filled with love and light.  Over the next days, Rufus received many visits and Jo was supported at all times.  Between the friends and the hospital staff, the end soon came.  When I arrived there in the middle of the night a few minutes after Rufus had left his body, I entered a room with Jo at his side and a nurse in the background.  I shall always remember her name – Consuelo (comfort) – and I shall always remember her, not for anything she said but for all that she did by being there, close to Jo to support her in that moment and allowing Rufus to go to sleep, forever.

I want to die like Rufus should ever I become ill.  He was dignified whilst ill, conscious to the last whilst ill, medicated for the pain whilst ill and above all, alive and happy whilst ill.  He never complained and I think his acceptance of what was going on in his life helped him.  He died like he lived – as himself and with a greater wisdom and a dignity which was all his.

 

Capsula Mundi – a new design

My guests are always interesting and amazing!

The Happiness Cafe Radio Show

Designers, Raoul and Anna

A recent guest at the Happiness Café was Raoul Bretzel of Capsula Mundi, a design company from Italy changing the face of western burial practises.  Raoul and his colleague Anna Citelli, have worked in the world of design in Italy for many years, winning prizes for innovative furniture designs many times.

However, back in 2003, they turned their attention to a design that hasn’t been touched for hundreds of years, namely the coffin.  In their journey to create a design that is at once both healthy and sustainable, they created a pod, the capsule.

They designed a life sized pod in which the corpse sits, in a foetal position, and which is then placed in the ground and a tree planted on top.  There is a mini sized pod for ashes which will be planted in the same way, thereby creating a forest of trees brought to life by bodies…

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