Dying twice

Portrait_002This year, and for the first time, the anniversary of my father’s death some years ago passed by without me remembering …

It had been a short drive to the nursing home my father had moved to eight days previously. My wife and I had been his primary carers for close to a decade but when, fourteen weeks earlier, he had fallen and broken his hip, his move away from his home and into the healthcare system sparked in him a serious decline. There was also a touch of guilt at the freedoms his move was affording to us.

As we neared the care home, an ambulance on an emergency call passed us. A minute later we drew up behind it and a paramedic vehicle already parked at the home. My wife said to me, ‘It’s for your father.’ I winced; I felt her to be right.

As we strode down the corridor of the second floor suite in which my father had taken residency, a member of staff addressed us: ‘Are you here to see Brian?’

‘Yes,’ we both smiled.

There was already a temporal shift occurring – odd, I thought, no one has addressed us in such a way before. A nurse blocked our path to my father’s room: ‘You’re Brian’s relatives?’ Somehow, in a moment, we were all in her office. My wife looked pale: ‘You’d better sit down Mrs Stafford.’ But there was a dreadful tension and confusion in the space. With my psychotherapist’s hat on I honed in on the emotion – there was huge anxiety being broadcast from this experienced nurse. After a few words she left us saying, ‘I’ll just check on your father’s condition.’ It hit my wife and me at the same moment and we rushed along the corridor.

Bundling into my father’s room we saw a paramedic ‘shouting’ at the prone and half naked figure: ‘Come on Brian … stay with us.’ My father’s chest heaved in physical distress as a bag covered his mouth and another medic prepared to shock him. His skin had the waxy hue and paleness I’d seen on my mother as she passed away.

In the small living space that had become my father’s whole world the paraphernalia of modern emergency support was strewn all around. My wife was first to enunciate her horror: ‘What are you doing this for?!’

For several weeks in three separate medical establishments my father, despite his communication difficulties caused by a stroke some years earlier, had made himself understood – he wanted to die. For the long years before he broke his hip my wife and I had cared for my father, it had been difficult to watch his almost daily decline; he had been a proud, principled and independent man, a teacher and an artist. At eighty, long overdue, he become a published poet. Difficult as it was to watch, we respected that this was a man fading out at his own request. And yet here we were, thrust into the most terrible of moments – a man who wanted to die being forced back into a world he no longer had an interest in. Our protestations that my father be allowed to pass away brought yet more tension into the room. The ‘shouting’ stopped, but our fourteen weeks of frustrations at the NHS care system were too much for me and my wife.

In counterpoint we made our cases aloud to the six medics about respect and civilised treatment. But apparently, my father’s DNR (do not resuscitate) wishes had not been recorded in the requisite manner. Procedure and regulation were in the way of care and welfare, and overrode my father’s desires.

For his entire adult life, my father voted for a system that respected people, treated them well; a welfare state, a national health service, free at the point of need – one of the marks of a civilised and mature society. Those entrusted to administer NHS continuing healthcare had already attempted piracy with his rights and, now, these paramedics were clearly having to apply procedure rather than the human care they so obviously wished to dispense.

My father was being denied his wish to die peacefully and with respect. This was a system seeking to revive him so that it might take him back to a hospital he had already refused to be taken to, in order that he could ‘die’ once more, probably on a trolly in a corridor in A&E.

Before all was lost, the senior paramedic took control and through several different stages and conversations that involved myself and my father’s GP the paramedics were allowed to ‘withdraw’. And then the room was quiet and my father once more calm. His beloved Radio could be heard in the corner of his room and death once more began to claim his body. Peacefully and with us as comforters for his passage he was able to complete his life, with respect and dignity.

Duncan suggests …

… reading the book ‘Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death‘ by Irvine D. Yalom,

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

 

Advertisements

Mother Ayahuasca

3monkeyGlennA line of candles on sticks light the trail to a clearing deep into the woods. The light is already fading on a warm July evening. At the centre of the clearing is a large newly lit fire. Twenty or more people sit or lay down in a circle around the fire.

A slight build, dark skinned man sits smoking a long pipe. He has a proud feathered headdress peaking perhaps two feet above his head, his face is painted, his clothes are patterned with bright whites and cool and dark blues. Under his necklaces I see images on his top that look familiar. Before I’m able to identify them the shaman starts speaking. A young woman translates his native Portuguese into English: ‘You must stay in the group until morning when the ceremony ends … Do not wander off into the forest away from the circle … If someone needs help, even the person next to you, do not help them – anyone needing help should raise their hand and I will come.’ The shaman then tells us he has been a shaman for more than sixty years, since he was eight. I wonder, is he trying to reassure us? I don’t think so. As I digest these words the images on his top are suddenly clear; two stormtroopers from Star Wars. Wow, really! And yes of course that is Darth Vader standing behind them. Odder still is that I find this somehow reassuring.

The forest has transformed, the fire is a giant coiled anaconda watching me amid the flames, the shaman is an icaro bird singing and dancing, calling to the forest. The sound of retching circles around the group, participants trying to hold down the thick bitter brown liquid; it’s mostly dry retching as they’ve not eaten since noon. The retching becomes a sort of wordless somatic conversation. My body responds with laughter. The conversation moves on; someone retches, I laugh, others laugh, someone moans. This is Mother Ayahuasca at work. I realise my laughter is joy. I’m not laughing at others’ discomfort, their retching noises or the irony of medicine making them sick. Joy was bubbling up as laughter. I realise joy makes no room for, nor has need of, empathy. Ah yes! Joy, not empathy. Ah yes to respond with empathy only reaffirms the dichotomy of the ‘healer’ and the ‘sick’.

My ‘intention’ or question for this ceremony was about how I approach my work. I was seeing how my question is based on the duality of ‘me and my approach’; with this thought, two things happened. I thought ‘I can’t wait to tell my therapist; he’ll love it’; immediately a voice in me blurted out ‘He doesn’t exist!’. More laughter, more joy. ‘I’ve made him up, of course; of course he doesn’t exist.’

As I lay back tucked into my sleeping bag my joy went from laughter to a stream of emotionless tears. ‘He doesn’t exist; neither do I.’ As Glenn slipped away, this whole night as an experience slipped away also. I saw the sky and canopy reaching down towards me, the trees and smoke dissolving into vibrant living patterns tracking back down where I lay. As I closed my eyes I felt ants crawling on my face, there was nothing there, I could see in my mind’s eye tiny creatures knitting together and unpicking my mind, wave after wave of patterns swept over me.

As I opened my eyes I saw my favourite painting hanging from the consulting room wall. Under it, on the sofa, sat Lena where I’d left her, wide eyed looking expectantly at me. ‘You went to sleep.’

‘Was it for long?’ I was still getting my bearings.

‘No maybe two minutes or so, no more.’

‘It felt like ages, really deep but, yeah just a few moments …’

‘So, did you dream?’ she asked with her eyes fixed on mine.

‘Yes.’ I paused, waiting for words to come out of my mouth.

‘So what did you dream?’

‘That’s just it; I don’t think I’ve stopped.’

Glenn says

ayahuasca is classified as a class A drug in the UK and is therefore illegal. In the Amazon it is treated as a potent medicine. It is unclear what the legal status of ayahuasca is if the boundary between dreaming and waking life has dissolved.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Indiscreet notes on the wisdom of reading too much

Jimblog1All possible thought could stream instantaneously through your mind at some point and then what?

How we fill the void of our terrifying incomprehensibility with an infinite number of stories is the only story.

Life might have no deep meaning. Wondrous relief, not to make an effort one way or another!

For me to ignore my luxurious experience of excessive reading would be even more decadent than this.

One mind, one thousand million books – all full, all empty. All fucking infuriating. All a complete wonder.

No matter how introverted you are, it’s always other people’s suffering that brings you to the fight.

It helps to walk around a bit and talk frankly to your other self and spit things out.

Bookshop as quiet war zone. Wandering out without a text to hand, feeling like an unarmed monk.

Call the world, it will come. Turn away and it will come even more ferociously. Not available in book form.

Infinite reading room in the eternal library – and your real life is the one in the best seat by the window.

Far too many words in a book. A handful of sentences would do for a lifetime.

Several lifetimes just to wake up.

The smell of books brings me to tears because of all the death and love and because there’s nothing else.

Your knowledge is no use until you’re free of it.

How to mind the gaps between sentences, where meanings live and die and shudder.

Gap the mind. Don’t be clever. Be the idiot-spark in the timeless gap. Just go on.

No, actually, the meaning of meaning is always already right here and suddenly understood.

Reading a book to find myself in the world, to recognise myself in it, then realising we’ve already met.

Don’t read yourself too carefully, you are already more wild and random than you know.

Books are other people without the change of mind.

My fresh and sophisticated maxim is your tired and ancient homily, and the other way round.

Even the smallest library is an excess of absence, like a graveyard. Evidence of our burning desires.

A person free from all pretence would be constantly fearless and a bloody pain to hang out with.

I am superbly pretentious, especially when I think I know you well. You get my fear just fine.

There is not much self to be found other than this constant, slow, brilliant shattering of syllables.

Don’t meet me in the field but in this very word which places us there already.

A single sentence: no less presumptuous than a novel, just forgotten sooner.

The most important book on this planet is mud.

How well we live when we put our books down and laugh at nothing!

Over-reading or over-eating or over-dreaming – the only difference is your odd degree of spiritual torpor.

Count the people now in the world who have the same thoughts as you and count yourself a fortunate idiot.

Make yourself up by going along with your destiny.

Deep truth as error. When you know a wise person has said something unforgettable, you forget it, wisely.

Sitting behind my wall of books with a head full of mind, the freedom not to read is unsurpassable.

The pause between reading and not reading is the actual reading.

What we seek is always (a) utterly impossible to find, and (b) under our noses, and (c) neither a nor b.

All the books in all the libraries at midnight, breathing out slowly, forgiving themselves for no reason.

The right books find you through chaotic acts of fate. You find the wrong books likewise.

Jim recommends

Fish, S. (2011). How To Write A Sentence.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Jim Holloway 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.