A natural end – can a frank discussion of dying feel helpful?

As we age, or as our health deteriorates, we can make plans for what treatments we would wish to avoid or where we would like to be cared for.  In a recent edition of The Tablet (26th May 2018),  a palliative medicine pioneer explains that it’s often a surprise to patients and families that a frank discussion of dying can feel so helpful.

When I was working for MHA, a key part of the work of the Chaplaincy team in MHA Care Homes and Independent Living communities was the development of “The Final Lap” – a programme to train staff to support residents and their families as they explore what the last days of life will mean for them.  My initial reaction at the time was shock, and the thought came to me “who wants to think about this?”.  I came to realise this is my own fear talking, my own denial about a process that is as natural as birth.  What I came to understand is that it it possible to respond to planning our dying in a positive and creative way.  “The Final Lap” philosophy is based on 3 key principles:

  1. Create a culture that faces the reality of death openly, as part of human life, and to deliver support that makes it a more positive experience for everyone.
  2. Different people have different ideas about what makes a ‘good death’, so preparation and planning based around the individual’s wishes are important.
  3. Supporting someone who is dying can be difficult, but it can also be very rewarding.  Final Lap training will help staff identify and address their support needs more effectively.

The Tablet article tells the true story of Ignatio, a man who is coming to the end of his life and finds relief and freedom in being able to talk about what he would like and, importantly, not like as part of his Advance Care Planning.  The full article is behind a paywall here , and details about the author, Kathryn Mannix, and her latest book can be read here .

Our parishes have an important role in helping us ‘pack for the journey’.  The Church offers hope and comfort because it is rooted in the belief that God made us to enjoy eternal life with Him.  We are blessed with some special prayers and sacraments that give meaning to sickness and death.

Growing Old Grace-fully are thinking about offering a short session to parish groups on planning your Catholic funeral.  This session will also offer the opportunity for people to start to explore some of the deeper questions and considerations for a parish in helping people think about their own end of life wishes.  Is this something you think your parish might be interested in?  Please get in touch with Rachel at growing.old.gracefully@dioceseofleeds.org.uk or call 07702 255142 for a chat.

Rachel Walker, Project Co-ordinator

Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds

Together for the Common Good have spotlighted a Channel 4 TV programme entitled ‘Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds’ which explored how bringing those born in the early 1930s with those born in 2013 together benefited not only the residents, but also the children who came to visit them.  St Monica Trust, with their roots in the High Anglican tradition, saw an opportunity to work with Channel 4 and devise a model for care homes that brought together the oldest and youngest in society.

Ten four-year-olds and eleven people in their late eighties were brought together for a six week experiment in a new nursery within St Monica’s retirement community in Bristol. Inspired by a similar scheme set up 25 years ago in the US, this was an inter-generational experiment designed to measure the impact on the health and happiness of older people.

If you didn’t see the programme when it was broadcast, it’s well worth watching on Channel 4’s catch-up  Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds’ .  You can read more about it here including what happened after the film crew left.

Spring Pilgrimage in North Wales

I have never seen so many wild primroses, got too hot in April by the sea in the UK, been blessed in water from 6th century St Seiriol’s Well and seen a circle of yew trees nearly 3,000 years old!


I was staying at Noddfa, a retreat centre in North Wales which I visit every year. I was on a pilgrimage following some of the Celtic saints in the area. We were mostly older people, helping each other down stone steps and up a steep Bronze Age grass burial mound where, “latterly” (i.e. over a 1000 years ago), some of the Celtic saints are also buried. As I get older I find it important to try and learn new things and be invigorated, as creation around us is growing and renewing after the winter.


We began and ended each day with Celtic prayer and music. We read about the “living water” that Jesus spoke of to the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn.4:10). Then we went to Anglesey to Penmon Priory, to the Well, Spring and 6th century stone outline of St Seiriol’s Cell. He was a hermit but people flocked to him to be blessed and healed in the water from the Well. There is an enclosed stone platform around clear water, and this was where I saw thousands of primroses in the grave yard of the mediaeval priory built by the Well.


Another day we went to Gwytherin, the site of St Winefride’s (Gwenffrewi), 7th century burial place. She was associated with Holywell, near Flint, where many visit. It is known as the Lourdes of Wales. We did not go there but to the site of the monastery where she lived and in a monastic community.There are four yew trees at the place, nearly 3,000 years old which probably were planted by Druids for their gatherings. The Christians later moved on to the site. Under the current church was the wooden monastic community where St Winefride and others lived, next to the ancient burial mound. It had a wooden church on top of the Bronze Age mound in Winefride’s day.


There is no longer evidence of these wooden structures. St Winefride’s body was supposedly removed to Shrewsbury by a monk in the 12th century. Did he? Is she still there? The other Saints remain. But for the Celtic Christians, for me and others on the Pilgrimage, it isn’t so much about the testable evidence, but a spirit, and energy, the history, a “knowing” at these holy places… I think older people with life experience, and a long relationship with God and other people, can pray and “know” some of the infinite aspects of God and the Saints, in the mystical tradition espoused by Richard Rohr, Joan Chittister and many others. I visited a number of sites where Celtic Saints have lived, and where they have healed and baptised in springs and wells in places which have been centres of pilgrimage for over a 1,000 years, there is a presence and a knowing that we experienced, shared and take back to our homes and parishes. I feel invigorated with learning and experiencing some new ways of living my faith. Happy Spring time to all!

Pippa Bonner – wife, daughter, mother and grandmother, writer and trustee

Togetherness Builds Community at St Clare’s, Bradford

I was delighted to be invited to the First Anniversary Celebration of the Parish of St Clare Relax and Craft Group yesterday.

Fr Stephen celebrated Mass and Sr Catherine gave a reflection starting with the Gospel reading – the story of Martha and Mary.  Sr Catherine said the Relax and Craft Group was designed to embrace the gifts of both Mary and Martha.  Members of the group are busy working whilst at the same time creating space to listen to each other.

Sr Catherine went on to thank all the people who’d been involved in the group since it started a year ago including Fr Stephen, the Community Centre Committee and all the people who attend.

Sr Catherine asked everyone to look at the blanket of knitted squares on display, completed by the group.  “You will find out motto ‘Togetherness Builds Community’ attached to it.  We try to live by this as it expresses our guiding ideal.  We constantly need to strengthen the sense of community in our parish and in our city and build bridges not walls.  Working together, we human beings can accomplish amazing good,” she explained.


“God has provided among us all the giftedness and talents needed for building up the community,”  Sr Catherine continued.  “The challenge is to go on encouraging and inviting those blessed with talent and ability to share these gifts with others.  Let us continue to Aspire, to Inspire before we Expire.”


Here are some of the comments the group members have made to Sr Catherine:

“I feel needed and feel good about myself.”

 “I have never felt so alive.”

 “I feel trusted and can share my innermost feelings.”

 “I enjoy the craft and meeting everyone.”

Thank you for inviting Growing Old Grace-fully to hear your inspiring story.

Rachel Walker, Project Co-ordinator 

Our first Roadshow session at Blessed John Henry Newman Parish

Rachel Walker from Growing Old Grace-fully  and Rachel Beedle from Catholic Care Older People’s Services led a short session to explore how the parish of Blessed John Henry Newman might continue to celebrate the gifts of older people, as well as support people in some of the challenges that may come along as we age.

The session used the recently published guide “Welcoming Older People – ideas for and from parishes” in considering how we need to cherish the blessings of later life as well as address the challenges, and how parishes have a really important role in being ‘little places of belonging’.

Parish members shared some of the wonderful activities already happening including the thriving Retirement Club which takes place every Monday and has over 100 members.  This led to Rachel Beedle talking with great enthusiasm about some of the smaller Friendship Clubs that Catholic Care are supporting, including the one that meets on a Tuesday afternoon in St Joseph’s Church Hall, Harrogate.

Both Rachels would like to thank both the people who attended for their warm welcome, and also those who made the session possible for their support.

If you are interested in arranging a session on how your parish can continue to be a ‘little place of belonging’ for older people, please contact Rachel on 07702 255142.  If you would like to know more about Friendship Groups, and other groups for older people in our Diocese supported by Catholic Care, please call 0113 388 5400 or email info@catholic-care.org.uk .

“I have a dream” by Ann West

Ann West, a trustee, writes “I have a dream that one day, older people will not have to sky dive, run marathons, complete a bucket list, rely on cosmetic surgery , or Viagra, in order to be admired, valued or just to keep up.”

You can read more about Ann’s dream here I have a dream by Ann West

Ann explains that this was written for an international project, to develop active ageing, called the Cinage Project.   “The growth of the older population in numbers, and in how long we are likely to live after retirement, means that we all need to think about how life could be different for possibly 30 or more years post employment.  I am part of a course run by Leeds Beckett University’s School of Performing Arts. We experience lots of different types of performance including, dance, singing,  writing and reading out loud, watching films of different types of performance, learning about and from each other. We have been asked to write several pieces, which we read out. It is amazing how the topics open up conversations about very important issues to us, in our Third Age.”

The finished performance will be printed for an international conference on active ageing in November 2017…. and then, who knows?

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

Leeds Homeshare is a scheme that aims to prove the opening words of Psalm 133 to be true.


The scheme carefully matches an older person, who might need some help to live independently in their own home, with someone who has a housing need.  In  return for providing low cost accommodation, the older person gets a minimum of 10 hours of help with daily living tasks like cleaning, shopping, gardening or  walking the dog.

But it’s really about companionship, about living with someone in unity and, as the Psalm says, it can be so ‘good and pleasant’.  It can help older people stay independent and in their own home for longer and offers companionship and new relationships for both the homeowner and the homesharer.

It’s a safe and supported arrangement, with Shared Lives in Adult Social Care taking references, checks and assessments to help ensure risk and safeguarding issues are well managed.

If you have a spare room and would be interested in having a chat about this, with no obligations, then please call Cath Ormerod on 0113 378 5410 or email homeshare@leeds.gov.uk.  More details can be found here Homeowner leaflet .

Times of Waiting

In the course of our life, many of us will experience periods of hospitalisation, which also carry with them a loss of control. And nearly everyone has to spend some time as an out-patient.  The longer we live, the more likely we are to find ourselves in hospital. But whether an in-patient or an out-patient, it inevitably means we are forced to spend a lot of time waiting.

Mgr Peter Rosser, a trustee of Growing Old Grace-fully, was asked to give a talk about “Time from the perspective of a patient” where he reflects on his own experience of spending time waiting at the disposal of medical personnel.  Here is an excerpt:


“Recently I came across a CTS pamphlet entitled ‘Five Loaves and Two Fish’ http://www.ctsbooks.org/five-loaves-and-two-fish/ .  It contains a series of 7 reflections by Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan written during his imprisonment in Vietnam.  At one point he realised that he was enduring the hours of imprisonment as lost time while he awaited release.  It led him to see that the hours of waiting could be valuable in themselves.


In his book “Road of Hope” written during his incarceration, he wrote “I will not wait. I will live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love”.  He goes on “Only one moment exists for you in all its beauty and that is the present moment.  Live it completely in the love of God.  If your life is built up like a large crystal from millions of such moments, it will be a wonderfully beautiful life.  Can’t you see how easy it could be?”


V H Vanstone in his book ‘The Stature of Waiting’ develops a similar and very pertinent reflection. He develops the point that after three years of active ministry, in a position of control over his life and decisions, Jesus then voluntarily allows himself to be handed into the power of others.  At this point he becomes a waiting figure, waiting on others’ decisions and actions.  He becomes utterly vulnerable and a true expression of the full cost of unconditional love.


This perception throws an entirely new light on our experiences of waiting and of dependence. The situation of waiting is generally resented: it is regarded as frustrating, and considered a diminution of man’s proper status.  But given that we are made in the image of God and called to reveal his nature through faithfully imaging Him in our world, our times of waiting, of being in the control of others and thus utterly vulnerable, take on new significance and importance.


In our activity we reveal God’s loving, creative activity on behalf of this world. But in our passivity (our waiting) we reveal to the world the equally important passivity of God which is the ultimate expression of his unconditional love.  Our waiting takes on a whole new stature and meaning.”


Here is the whole transcript of Fr Peter’s talk, Healthcare Talk January 2017 Fr Peter Rosser


Richest Blessings for Christmas

lovecamedown-picLove came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, love divine,

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and angels gave the sign.

Christine Rossetti (1830-94)


Dear friend

The period before Christmas can be a particularly busy one.  Here at Growing Old Grace-fully we too have been swept up in the busyness as we have been developing a pack of ideas for and from parishes to help in “Welcoming Older People” which we are hoping to launch early in 2017.

We want this pack of ideas to inspire practical actions that support the growth of later life friendly parishes in our own Diocese of Leeds, as well as beyond our Diocese.  It is our hope and our prayer that this pack really makes a positive difference when it comes to support older people and valuing their gifts.  Every topic we consider focuses on “What your parish can do” in a variety of areas including:

  • Vocation in Later Life
  • Growing a Dementia-Friendly Parish
  • Being Mortal
  • Tackling Loneliness
  • Caring for Carers.

We are so grateful to have been given a generous donation towards the production of this pack by The Grail Society.  This means we can get the pack designed and laid out to make it easy to use.  We aim to have printed packs available by Spring 2017, and we hope the 8 Chapters will be available even earlier for downloading on our website.  We will make sure we let you know when they are ready, as well as how to get your copy.

In last year’s Christmas Newsletter, we included an excerpt from a talk by John Bell of the Iona Community who made the surprising statement that “Advent and Christmas are about old people”.

Last Christmas Day, on Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”, John developed this idea in more detail.  He spoke about preaching at midnight mass in Dundee when he asked the congregation:

3-wise-kids“I wonder who among us was once a shepherd?  I wonder who among us was once a wise man?  There was an outburst of laughter when I asked who had once been the hind legs of the donkey.”

John continues:

“For many people, their introduction to the Christmas story will have been through taking part as a child in a school or church nativity play. Maybe this explains the origin of the phrase, ‘Christmas is a time for the children.’

 The irony of it all is that there are no children with leading roles in the Christmas story. Jesus was not born in a kindergarten surrounded by infants wearing their father’s dressing gown or their mother’s tea towels.

 3-wise-menMost of the main players are old – Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon and Anna have their elderly status clearly underscored in the Bible. The Shepherds would not be toddlers; and the wise men wouldn’t be wise unless they were old. In those days wisdom did not come through attaining a Ph.D in your mid-twenties.

 The Christmas story is, rather, about God expecting older people to enable a new and surprising thing to happen.

 I saw this truth alive and well last week when I visited a Roman Catholic church hall which has become the welcome centre for Syrian refugees. Most of those helping out were retired.  None had experience of relating to Arabic speaking Muslims before. But like the people in the nativity story they felt somehow summoned to welcome and enable a new thing to happen.

 So if you once were a shepherd or an angel or even the hind legs of the donkey, don’t let Christmas simply be a time for regression therapy…..particularly when now as always, God is looking for older people to be the midwives of the new things that need to happen.”

John Bell, Christmas Day 2015, Radio 4


Warmest thanks for your interest in and support of our work across the Diocese.

 We wish all Growing Old Grace-fully’s friends and supporters God’s richest blessings for Christmas and the coming year.

Pippa Bonner, Trustee             Carol Burns, Chair                Anne Forbes, Trustee

Paul Grafton, Trustee      Cath Mahoney, Trustee              Mgr Peter Rosser, Trustee

Rachel Walker, Project Worker             Ann West, Trustee