Thursday, February 7, 2013

Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life... is death.

I watched the most fabulous DVD yesterday. It is called Griefwalker. It stars Stephen Jenkinson, in a NFB film by Tim Wilson.

"Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life... is death."
-Stephen Jenkinson

I like to take notes after, or during a PD opportunity like this, for I am, indeed, a hospice volunteer. I believe in working with people as they die to help them have a good death.

It is peculiar that death is such a surprise to many of us. Griefwalker speaks to that part of me that recognizes our mortality and tries to make that passing easier. For the most part, I do it by doing a LIfe Review. I have written of this elsewhere, and I will try to capture the message of this fabulous man, social worker and death doula.

The number one fear, his clients tell him, is of pain and suffering. What he finds is that this is not true. When he digs deep, their biggest fear is of dying or not knowing when they will die. Between a wife and a husband it dominates their conversation.
When you find out you are dying, you might keep it to yourself like a prized possession. My late mother did this. It didn't help me, and pissed off many of her friends.

What good is it to know you are dying? You can turn your life around.
Jenkinson calls himself the Angel of Death, but Death Doula is a more accurate term. He helps his clients move themselves into the other world with grace and dignity.
Many people feel terror, not with anticipated pain, for most of us have managed pain, but with the big question about what happens after death. He is a philosopher, woodsman, boatman and bard.
he tells us that our souls are wounded, like a hole in a canoe. If we embrace death and dying, we can work it through to a position of strength.
For death will lead us, past our lives, past our children.
What he finds is hell, are those children, especially, who experience life extending measures that diminish us, one treatment at a time. Most of us want to die in privacy and in peace at home, with loved ones around us.
Most of us have a death phobia. Hospice volunteers do not!
For those involved in the Catholic church, they tell us we are all sinners, that we risk going to hell. The 'wages of sin' are death. The brilliant response by Jenkinson is
'The capacity of a family from now on is how you died, not what you died from." The table you set is how you will be remembered and how powerful you will be in their future lives.
This documentary introduces us to Stephen Jenkinson, the leader of a palliative care counselling team at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital. Through his daytime job, he has been at the deathbed of well over 1,000 people. What he sees over and over, he says, is "a wretched anxiety and an existential terror" even when there is no pain. Indicting the practice of palliative care itself, he has made it his life's mission to change the way we die - to turn the act of dying from denial and resistance into an essential part of life.

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