“End of life matters” events: a reflective report

Hazel Mitchell writes:

What do we call the course?  Bath Meeting did not like “Death Cafe”, so we just let things evolve, and we came up with the  above title.  As this gave the acronym of “ELM”  the outline of an elm tree behind our wording was incorporated on the advertising poster – the bright idea of a Bath Friend.

Photo of English elm trees by Woodland Trust

The planning committee first met in September 2017, including two retired doctors to add their expertise.  We met four times in all, with much telephone use as well, and were able to begin the series on 4 April 2018.   We decided to vary the time and day of these meetings, in order to allow as wide a membership as possible.

We intended a course which would aim at two outcomes.  One was the practical approach encouraged by Friends:

Approach old age with courage and hope. As far as possible make arrangements for your care in good time, so that an undue burden does not fall on others”  (Advices and Queries No.29)

To cover some of the topics, we invited a representative from “Lasting Power of Attorney Made Simple” and a spokesperson from Dorothy House Hospice on their wonderful work. Our session on “Planning your own funeral” was an introduction to the practical implications, but in groups of three or four it was also an opportunity to look in greater emotional depth and spiritual meaning.

Our second aim was to make it possible for members to express feelings about dying and death in a safe place, confidentially. Here we asked the lead Chaplain from the Royal United Hospital in Bath to talk about her work and the nurse trainer of staff caring for dying patients.

Although presentations were formal, practical matters crossed over into the emotional aspects, which we pursued often in the full group but also in small groups.  Numbers varied between six and 12 so our small group work meant we could easily talk and not be overheard by others in our large meeting room.

One of our main resources was the Church of England set of questions called “Grave Talk” which were an excellent lead into feelings.  Our main resource however was the life experience of the members.  Someone suggested our session entitled “Summing Up” would be a valuable opportunity to consider what had been learned and what was still to explore.  It was felt there was value in being glad that a dozen of us faced the “last taboo” at least enough to ask some questions, and not forgetting to convey the enjoyment we had in learning from outside speakers and from each other.   We didn’t tackle every possible aspect of the issue thus leaving space for a re-run.  We collected a list of possible topics such as Assisted Dying, the Afterlife, Advance Directives and chaplaincy work both in hospital and university.

Over the period of the course we collected or had recommended, a large number of books and leaflets.  It was a densely packed A4 sheet list which still did not include all the details, and of course we already possess a library section on the topic.  This list is now available.

Did it do what we wanted?  We need the 20 members who attended one or more sessions, to give their responses.  Certainly one person found communicating with her family about these matters had become slightly easier.  Hopefully we could all think more openly and honestly about what our needs were.

Unknown author –  “Really, we’re all just holding hands and walking home”

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