‘As we get older we can gradually experience a series of ‘losses’ – an increase in health issues, a decrease in independence, some loss of ability to do what we used to do, loss of friends, possibly moving out of your home, loss of memory and so on.
How do we hold onto and deepen our true identity, allow loss to be part of our jigsaw, find new purposes and resilience in the context of this part of our spiritual and practical journey?‘
This event aims to give an opportunity to listen to the experiences of others, reflect on what can help, share in discussion groups and end with a reflection and prayer.
As it is an online event, you can join from the comfort of your own home. We look forward to seeing you there!
Is it a decline or an ascent, a blessing or a burden, or a mixture of both? How do we face and embrace both the challenges and the joys in the context of our ongoing spiritual journey? How do we support those around us to do the same?
We would love to see you at any or all of our partnership events on Later Life. Click on the links below to book your place:
Tuesday 26th April 12 noon at Wheeler Hall, Leeds (next to St Anne’s Cathedral). Enjoy a lovely lunch followed by a panel of speakers and time for questions and discussion. (In partnership with Leeds Church Institute).
2. ‘Jubilee Tea Party and Celebrating Later Life!(The Briery, Ilkley)‘
Sunday 12th June 3.00pm at The Briery Retreat Centre, Ilkley The Briery kitchen will cook up a lovely spread for a tea party celebrating our Queen, and we will reflect on the joys and opportunities of later life for us all. There is a suggested offering of £10 per head. Please ring 01943 607287 to book and pay. (In partnership with The Briery Retreat Centre).
Thursday 16th June 2.30pm at Wheeler Hall, Leeds. Join us for a tea party celebrating our Queen and reflecting on the joys and opportunities of later life for us all. A Donations Box will be available on the day. (In partnership with Leeds Church Institute).
A new support and advice service is being launched to help people across West Yorkshire and Harrogate through grief and loss.
‘Practical and emotional support and advice is available from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week via our freephone number 0808 1963833, or online chat facility. Our team can offer support and help connect you with organisations local to you, who can offer additional help where needed’.
The free service, commissioned by West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership, will be delivered by West Yorkshire and Harrogate Independent Hospices Consortium, Bradford Counselling Collaborative and Leeds Mind.
Do contact the service if you:
are suffering any form of grief and loss
are worried about losing someone, whether this relates to a family member, friend or member of their community
have been unable to see a loved one in their illness or final days
are feeling impacted by the volume of deaths across the country or other aspects of the virus
How can we understand our reactions and responses to the current time?
This coronavirus pandemic is a strange, roller coaster time of ups and downsin our daily lives. We are very likely worried about others and ourselves, on alert, and at the same time want distraction and any good news stories. Maybe our routines and immediate plans are currently up in the air……
Yet we live in the same place with the same view out of the window and with the same community around us. How much of our daily lives have changed and for how long? This coronavirus pandemic will pass. We live in a country with a National Health Service that is free, staffed with skilled hard-working doctors, nurses, carers and other valued, dedicated staff. Staff and supplies are under pressure but we are perhaps relieved we live in the UK. We will also be concerned about our sisters and brothers worldwide. We are told news every day. This is a mixture (currently in March) of worsening statistics, news stories of dedicated work by medical and local authorities, communities singing and exercising from balconies and lots of other creative ways to stay connected and fit, despite this new term “social distancing.” Some of us are rationing our intake of worrying news. We may also be hearing heart-warming stories and seeing cartoons that make us smile.
Life’s Ups and Downs
Many of usare feeling all kinds of emotions. Some remember previous national and personal hard times. We know from life experience that we have mostly weathered and come throughloss of many kinds: family, health, money and work difficulties, ruptured relationships, uncertainties and unexpected challenges. We have also experienced many positive aspects in our lives, and more to come!
And… we have got through to where we are now. Some have had a lifetime of raising families, years of work, acquiring skills and knowledge, having periods of happiness and fulfilment and may on the whole be mostly satisfied about the small and large contributions we have made, and in some ways continue to make to others.
However, at present we may find our mood and outlook changes during the day so that we are experiencing ups and downs. I have just spoken to my 90 year old mother a hundred miles away. She spent the morning reading (in her view) a depressing newspaper article about future country finances and then sat in the sunshine in her garden enjoying the flowers. This morning I felt anxious listening to the news, but then listened to The Archers and went out for my daily walk and saw the daffodils, looking colourful and beautiful whatever is going on around them despite the earlier floods. They flower every year whatever is happening!
We may be worried about our families and friends. Are they well? Will they stay well? Will we manage to get our food and other requirements? Will those unable to work have enough money to manage, jobs to go back to and have time and space for their children to do some schoolwork, have some fun and ways of releasing their energy? Will teenagers and others facing external exams be supported through the next few months and through the next academic and life changes in their lives?
And how do we find peace and distraction when we need that? We have the wisdom and experience of older age to know how we cope in difficult times. Perhaps we pray more and find our religious belief helpful and then we can cry out in our own way: why is this happening to me and to them? Sometimes we doubt our religious faith. Do we have the resilience to cope with this uncertainty? How long will this last? Will we stay well?
I worked for many years supporting people through bereavement and loss, and to a limited extent I still do! You may wonder why I am mentioning loss. We may currently be fearing loss or bereavement or worry about change and having to live a different life for the moment. Our routines and networks are disrupted. We may be grieving for the freedom to go out and meet others or have visitors calling round. We wonder about people’s jobs, and anxieties about paying bills, rents and mortgages, Perhaps we have “lost” our peace of mind?
A Loss, Change and Bereavement Model
One of the most useful, enduring bereavement and loss models, in my view, is from Stroebe and Schut that focuses on how we each individually may respond to loss, bereavement and change, including a changed perception of our current life and the world around us. You may be familiar with it. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t. After many years of offering it to people I have learnt a number of points:
You are the person who knows best how you think and feel and you are the expert in that, even if at times it doesn’t seem like that. Others can try to empathise with how you think and feel.
There are two main types of responses we may find we are using, as follows:
a) FEELINGS – You may respond to loss, change and bereavement by feeling sad, panic, angry, guilty, disorientated and experience a number of emotions. You may be very aware of feelings and trying to work through your emotions of loss.
b) MANAGING & PLANNING – You may be someone who manages loss, bereavement and the perception of a changing world by trying to plan and manage it, allowing yourself to plan for the future, be distracted and sometimes even deny to yourself it is happening.
3. Neither of these ways are either right or wrong – the way of feeling the emotions, or the way of planning a way through – they are both alright and are just how they are.
4. We are all different but you may encounter some difficulty if you get stuck either with only feeling the feelings or only trying to cope and plan too much.
5. We usually learn to oscillate, move between, expressing emotion and working towards a future. So, a mixture of both a) feeling the feeling and b) managing the situation towards the future is needed, so this is not an “either/or” but a “both and” way of dealing with our lives. That is why it can seem like a roller coaster experience: up and down.
We all have our existing losses and now with Coronavirus we are dealing with the anxiety of the immediate future. This can compound the feeling of loss for us depending on the losses we are already experiencing.
An important point to offer is that those working with people who are experiencing the challenges and positives of everyday lives often use the word resilience. Here resilience isn’t defined as being brave and positive all the time. What is meant here, in my view, is that a resilient person is one that can hold the difficult and positive stuff together and continue in their lives.
We all have ups and downs but in older age we have usually realised that we have come through a lot of life and can hold what we have experienced from the good times and the challenging experiences at the same time. So we are usually quite resilient even when it doesn’t feel like it!
Let us keep supporting each other through this in whatever way we can. When this corona virus time comes to an end we can look back together and see how we came through!
As we are not able to run the conference at this time, we thought we would remind you of some useful websites and books on the topics of living and dying well. We hope you benefit greatly from exploring this content.
This excellent website based on an ancient Catholic tradition called Ars Moriendi offers practical and spiritual support to anyone faced with the prospect of death and dying, including helpful articles and videos.
Revd. Tom Lusty, LCI member and Vicar at St Giles, Bramhope reflects on ministry spent as a full-time hospice chaplain in the context of Covid-19.
Given the five years I spent inhabiting a hospice on a more or less daily basis I now know that death isn’t all that bad. It can sometimes be protracted and exhausting for all concerned. But even in such circumstances a good death is possible. With a good death there is a tangible sense of completeness, of dying with integrity.
To be honest I did not spend a great deal of time talking about death at the hospice beyond using euphemisms for it. For some of the nurses heaven was their euphemism of choice for death: “Gladys has gone to heaven now – God help them all up there”. I did speak, however, about my Christian faith when invited to do so, and the opportunities that came my way to speak about resurrection hope were considerable.
Within our tiny specialist world hospice chaplains have developed a repertoire of material that enables people to prepare spiritually for their own dying. Three resources that were and remain helpful to me are Mud and Stars, which gave me the theology, Tom Gordon’s A Need for Living which gave me the metaphors, and John O’Donohue’s Benedictus which gave me everything else: when there is nothing else you can do, you can always bless. That is a powerful thing to be left with – if you can bless sublimely, even better.
Dying is not about so much anguish and forsakenness. A good death is a movement towards integration – from “dislocation to relocation, from disorientation to re-orientation, from disintegration to re-integration” as Mud and Stars puts it. Part of a wider crucifixion/resurrection dynamic where we are always on the lookout for resurrection.
The cover photo of a book by Tom Gordon entitled New Journeys Now Begin depicts the access path to north beach on the Island of Iona. The inscription reads “No bikes beyond this point”. For each of us there will come a point where we have to relinquish the bike to go on the next stage of the journey. Getting off the bike can be painful because we get used to cycling everywhere. The more in life we can put the bike down and enjoy the view, the better prepared we will be for that moment in life when we will each have to “say goodbye to the bike”. As it were. This is a metaphor. A metaphor for resurrection.
As well as using metaphors a lot a group of hospice chaplains adopted a mnemonic as a helpful way into conversations about dying. The HEALER model goes like this:
H is for Hope – what takes people in a trajectory away from despair.
E is for Exploring Feelings – encouraging people to articulate their feelings.
A is for Adjustment to Loss – exploring how significant loss is transcended.
L is Looking Back – doing a life review: anything significant left unresolved?
The E and the R stand for Existential and Religious issues – some people are terrified of death for reasons that go beyond fear of the physical process of dying. I put that under ‘Existential’. Religion comes last of all. That is healthy because it says not all our needs are religious ones. We may choose to express our grounds for hope in religious terms but never exclusively so.
The HEALER mnemonic provides us with six different prompts as a helpful way into a conversation about dying. These prompts are not to be tackled exhaustively in chronological order (imagine how awful that would be) but rather as a means of focussing on some of the ways in which the conversation might go.
Given that Easter this year coincides with the beginning of the six to eight week peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK using prompts from this mnemonic might be helpful during that time if we wanted to reflect on our own mortality. Devoting a little space to reflect on our own dying (say ten minutes, once a week) will certainly make us more open to engage with others who may be starting out on the process of the end of life’s journey.
When someone asks “what hymns are you having for your funeral?” a closed response “goodness, I have never thought of that” may not always be adequate. A more open-ended, personal response to the question might well allow the questioner to fulfil a need to talk openly about death.
In any Christian model of spiritual preparation for dying you can’t leave out the letting go …and the leaping. John O’Donohue describesthe daily handing over of one’s life as the act of awakening and surrender. The possibility of this daily practising of such a hand over, however we may choose to do it, of our lives into the life of God may well be what makes us most Christ-like.
Each morning we awaken to the light… each night we surrender to the dark… Awakening and surrender: they frame each day and each life; between them the journey where anything can happen.
John O’Donoghue, Anam Cara
The HEAL(ER) mnemonic was devised by Revd Linda Elliott, at one time Chaplain at Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough.
Books mentioned in this article:
Mud and Stars: The Report of a Working Party on the Impact of Hospice Experience on the Church’s Ministry of Healing