I spoke with actor, producer and author Greg Wise about how we talk about death, the medicalisation of death, and Greg’s own experiences with his sister Clare through her cancer diagnosis until her death in 2016.
71 years later on the same date (October 13th 1989) Percy returned to guide his brother – my Grandad – Arthur George Caldecoat home. We are all just walking each other home. 💫 #brotherlylove 💕
Getting someone who can speak up for you when you can’t speak up for yourself. The law and what you need to do:
I reflect on an experience I had a couple of weeks ago which started many years before.
I was recently put into a situation where I had to discuss the difficult decision of whether a dog should be give cancer treatment to prolong its life by approximately a year at most. It is easy to say there is no right or wrong but these situations make me feel quite strongly about who we are trying to be right or wrong for. Are we really trying to help the dog or put off our own grief? Delaying death is the inevitable side effect of many treatments we face as adults but does a dog ever really have an informed ability to make a decision?
On reflection, it made me think a lot about pets I had as a child and how each of their lives ended. Each of our pets seemed to have health problems that meant none of them lived a very long life. Pure bad luck. We had several dogs, each of them only living to 4 or 5. One lived until 8. It was the one who lived longest that was to have the greatest impact on me. He became acutely unwell with kidney failure, but of course that had been going on unnoticed for some weeks. When the time came to allow him to be euthanised my mother could not bear to go to the vets with him as she was so upset. I was 12 years old. I insisted I would go instead. My father agreed to come with me and drove us to the vets. On arriving, the vet came out to the car to get our dog and I followed. My father couldn’t really bear it either, so somehow I took the ‘adult role’. That vet sought to find out my understanding, he assessed my ability to cope, he spoke to me with compassion, with patience, he took time to ensure my experience as an impressionable pre-teen was not traumatic, despite my sadness.
I held our dog in my arms, and spoke to him softly and gently and told him that I loved him and that he was ok. He looked at me with those doughy eyes, the way dogs do and he seemed calm. I can remember him becoming floppy in my arms, breathing his last breath and the vet encouraged me to lay him down gently. Clear as if it were last week I remember it. And I have reflected that the things I said to my dog; calming and reassuring and that he was loved are the very basis of Soul Midwifery. Even then I believe it was in me, not to be upset but to give love.
Then my sorrow poured out, then the grieving began. But never in front of him, I knew not to upset my dog. A big part of me became an adult that day. I became the adult for those who couldn’t do it. I have never forgotten the way the vet made me feel while my dog was dying. He was so professional and human and kind. I never forgot his name either.
I know events like this have shaped me, have made good & compassionate & beautiful end of life care run through me like the words on a stick of rock. I know hundreds of events like this have led me to the place I am today.
I spent a few days recently with present thoughts about the event with my dog. Also the thoughts of whether the guidance I had given that person about what to do with their own dog was the right message.
Last week I was at a community event and I began speaking to a gentleman who was very passionate about animal welfare and how people react and behave when they choose treatments or not for their animals. We spoke briefly about our feelings about the TV super-vet and some of the extremes that owners choose to go to with their animals for survival. Our views were quite similar. He told me his name and I felt like I was being sucked back in time. No lie. The hairs on my neck stood up. He was the vet from nearly 30 years prior. He was my vet. I could not unravel the story quick enough and he recalled it too. If that’s not universal affirmation I don’t know what is. It completed the circle my mind needed. Our subconscious prepares us for things that are just about to rear their heads.
And affirmation is just wonderful. Like a fuzzy warm smile to ourselves letting us know the universe planned it all along. All will be well.
I had the honour of meeting my friend Ian today ; he was a chaplain at Addenbrooke’s Hospital for many years. We both volunteer at the Cambridge Cancer Help Centre and we usually exchange poignant and heartfelt stories that have bonded us . Today he told me an addition to some learning I had already got from him… he taught me about the five essential T’s of bereavement first aid that any of us can apply to help those who are newly grieving or bereft.
He then enlightened me with the honour of the time he met the inspirational Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who gave his 5 T’s a twist !
She said they would have to be the 4 T’s and a C as the Americans only drink coffee and coke!
We meet people where they are at so I think we can adapt to that!
I also recall being taught that tears contain endorphins that help ease pain when swallowed / sniffed up as they often are in deep emotional crying. Best to cry it out,.. so we need to enable people to do that, in privacy, with dignity and with the 5 T’s.
Important lessons we need to learn before we can change. I’ve learned this lesson, seen it over and over.
Sadly many adults have never seen anyone dying or being over treated so they still believe that everyone can be saved by modern medicine. Natural dying is only interrupted by modern medicine and that causes more harm than good.
How do you explain what you do when you don’t ‘do’ anything?
Being is much more important that doing. Well it is in this busy world.
We have become Human doings rather than human beings. We have in our busy lives forgotten how to slow down, breathe fully out and be with those who need us. I sought something else in a life of children, working and running around being busy like most young (ish!) mum’s do.
Following 2 years of consolidating my training as a Soul Midwife I decided to tell people what I am being.
On January 1st this year, I set up a Facebook page for my business ‘Cambridge Soul Midwife’ and have had nothing but support, love and encouragement from family, friends, strangers and colleagues. Some of the love has come from the other side of the world, and a lot from my family of Soul Midwives trained by the wonderful Felicity Warner.
So far I have had a few clients who I shall refer to as ‘friends’. Some have died, some are dying. We are all dying but whilst we are dying we must continue to live. The only rule a Soul Midwife lives by is to meet their ‘friend’ where they are at. We are not here to judge, fix, coax or hurry.
We are here for the laughter, tears, and to sit with you in the darkness when you cannot see the light.
This ‘life work’ (because this is what I have been destined to be) is humbling, and a true privilege. Yes it is sometimes sad, but more than anything it is incredibly beautiful to be invited to spend time with some one at the end of their life.
This is my first time writing much of this down in public. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated. Jo x