New headquarters for the Art of Dying Well
We’ve moved to St Mary’s University, Twickenham where the director of The Art of Dying Well, Maggie Doherty, promises that the task of providing hopeful accompaniment for the human journey will continue to develop and grow.
What to expect from future podcasts
After a gap of almost a year, a new episode will be posted every two months. The next one will feature young broadcasters from St Mary’s University giving their views and experiences of death and dying. Visit the Art of Dying Well Podcast library.
Our first live event: Caring for the dying
Friday 18 January was a landmark moment in the story of The Art of Dying Well. On that day, we hosted our first live event featuring a conversation between actor and director, Greg Wise, palliative care specialist, Kathryn Mannix and LBC Radio’s journalist and presenter, Shelagh Fogarty. The event took place at St Mary’s theatre, The Exchange, Twickenham, and was such a success that more events are sure to follow.
A brother’s love
Greg Wise’s story of caring for his sister, Clare, in the last months of her life is told in a book, Not That Kind of Love. The book consists of blog posts by Clare about her breast cancer that was taken over by Greg when she became too ill to write. His account is witty, intelligent and moving and you can hear it at first hand in the first of our two interviews.
From the Chaplain’s Chair
A hospice chaplain dedicates his life to caring for dying patients and their families. Father Peter Scott, Catholic Chaplain at St Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney, https://www.stjh.org.uk/
Seeing beyond the mask
The great privilege for Father Peter is when a dying patient trusts him enough to open their heart.
“Sometimes, you are seeing beyond the mask. You are seeing the person for who they are. They are talking to you about their fears, or they are talking to you about their hopes, or they are talking to you about the lost opportunities in their lives or the things they regret. They may never have spoken honestly and truthfully about that before. And so you feel you have got treasure. You have the chance to acknowledge the treasure that they are offering and you have the chance to offer words of comfort and healing to enable them to let go of those things or to celebrate them or to feel really proud of them and therefore to move on towards death and God. So it is a very beautiful, wonderful place to be.”
Supporting the family
Father Peter begins with practical questions for family members: Are they eating properly and getting enough rest? Then he talks to them about the religious and spiritual support they can give to their loved one.
“A simple thing would be ‘have you seen our beautiful chapel? Maybe you’d like to bring the patient down to the chapel for them to experience it.’ And they bring them down and sometimes I’m here and it gives me a lovely chance to speak with both of them and to pray with both of them.”
A chaplain can gain a profound insight into the relationship between the patient and those closest to them. This can allow the chaplain to be a bridge between them so that, for instance, a patient can share his or her worries about the burden their illness is placing on the relationship.
What will happen after I’m gone?
Sometimes a patient is worried about how the rest of the family will cope without them. Father Peter recalls how he helped a dying mother.
“There was a lovely surrendering of the children to dad to let her die knowing they were in such good care. And getting the children to see that now everything was now handed over to dad.”
Difficulties with letting go
This is often more marked with younger patients than older ones. Father Peter finds that older patients tend to have a natural understanding that they’re going to die and are likely to have experienced the loss of individuals close to them. This is rarely the case with younger people.
Father Peter says: “I think that there’s a certain truth in the fact that bodies are programmed to live. When you’re younger your body is in its prime and it’s fighting against whatever the disease is so it’s harder for it to relax and surrender itself to the dying process.
“I think the older you are, the more the body has its own memory sometimes, its own expectations. It also has a slight fragility to it, a weakness so that it sometimes just surrenders itself more readily as does the person.”
‘I go off and fall apart’
It is all too easy to take a priest for granted. People see the clerical collar and may forget the person wearing it. But it would be a mistake to think that a hospice chaplain does not share the suffering of those he works with. Father Peter copes by asking dying patients to pray for the hospice when they get to heaven.
“I say to patients ‘you will know when time is getting a bit nearer for you and you might not be able to talk back to me. You will know you are very important to me when I ask you that question.’ That’s my way of somewhat controlling my feelings and keeping myself in check. I can be that Peter, that rock that helps relations, nurses, doctors, deal with the patient.
“Let them experience their emotions and I will get through the dying process, the accompaniment process. Then I’ll go outside and fall apart in the chapel on my own, or more often than not in the sacristy, and just let my own emotions show themselves.”