The Sacred Centre

sharing – daring – caring – writing from the heart

Category: End of Life

Back into Darkness

P3201418.JPGI still mourn the loss of my most cherished follower who left my blog while I was recounting my last stay at Plum Village, now nearly two years ago. However much this upsets me (incredible that it does at all) I can see why he unfollowed me. My writing and my experience of life, more so of Plum Village, had changed.

It was the start of a new journey for me. Out of the depths of darkness that is depression, into a confusing time of change with medication that I never intended to take. You might as well mourn my death as well, as the person I was and the believes I once held have changed.

It is not so much the medication that did this, contrary to my own popular belief, but simply me, deciding to take the medication in the first place. I was always against medication, believed I could get along just fine with a healthy diet, yoga and complementary therapies. To make the decision to take medication was a last resort, there was not much else left at the time.

After I got out of the initial adjustment phase I enjoyed a few months “normality” where life was good and I got on well with the world. Then I began to feel the anxiety return, triggers hit harder and deeper and when I felt myself return to that dark and exhausting place, I literally begged for a higher dose.

Everything went a little bit lighter and easier again for a while, but never again quite so beautiful as when the medication first worked. Once you have the direct comparison between how beautiful life can be and how bad it can get, you will do almost anything to get back to the good time. Your every addict’s explanation for hitting that next high just one more time.

So up went the dose again but not much changed, the little lighter phase hardly recognisable. Then I had my first proper panic attack with blackout and A&E. All tests returned normal. It is clearly all just in my mind…

Then I got started on a different type of medication with terrible side effects, leaving me even more tired and yet strangely motivated to voice my darker inner world and follow my suicidal ideations, with the only positive, albeit not a positive at all, being that instead of bottling up my anger it now shot out of me at any opportunity, unpredictable like a dragon spits fire. And I still had yet another panic attack.

At my wits end I write a long letter to my GP, explaining what I find difficult to put into spoken words, who finally refers me to the local mental health team. I’m in a very dark place, they think it is not because of the new medication but rather that the dosage isn’t high enough.

“Hang in there, we’ll get you the help you need. You will feel better”, they say.

So I’m hanging in there, half dead, half alive. Live has turned pretty meaningless and it is my job that provides stability and routine to get me out of bed and gives me at least some sort of purpose and sense of meaning, however difficult it is at times to focus and put on a smiley face.

Then someone sais: “It can’t be that bad if one can still go to work…”

And the struggle continues, walking on that tight rope above the deep darkness, one minute hoping to make it to the other end, the next just wanting to give up and let myself fall into the darkness, where I can simply give into the tiredness, to sleep and not having to struggle no more to keep it together for society’s sake.

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I have so far avoided to write such dark thoughts onto this blog which was meant to be uplifting and enlightening. But the Sacred Centre was also meant to represent my inner self, to acknowledge what is there and let it come up to be healed. This is my attempt to acknowledge this shitty dark place inside of me. Even though it isn’t a very likeable one, it is still a part of me, and it deserves a voice just like the others do.

Another reason I haven’t posted anything for a while is that I seem to have lost everything I have believed in. So this might well be the biggest personal and spiritual crisis I ever had or simply an undiagnosed mental health condition that I have tried to cover up by focusing on the positives in life with the help of practical self-help solutions, which to be fair did help. But I now feel that I’ve exhausted all avenues of conventional and alternative treatments and still feel worse.

“It’s normal to feel like this at times”, is a common well-meant encouragement.

But it portrays nothing of the very “unnormal” struggle inside myself, or for any other person suffering from a mental health condition. So what’s the solution? Other than simply follow my suicidal thoughts, I’m yet to find out. I will sure keep you updated once I do. In the meantime I’m pondering on the thought that I need to allow myself to fall into the darkness and live it because otherwise I will never be able to truly be myself.

If you would like to read more about mental health, I have written more under “Mind over Matter” on my blog “The Cycle of my Life“.

Accepting Grief

The days rushed by without coming to a conclusion whether I should take the trip to the continent for my Godmother’s funeral. And when the day came I was still struggling between the stress of travelling on short notice and the worry I would feel that I had missed out on the last opportunity to spend time in my Godmother’s surroundings.

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So this morning I went up onto the rolling green hills of the Sussex South Downs and flew a small kite as my very own little memorial service to an inspirational individual who has had a big impact on my spiritual growth. To the kite I had attached Tibetan prayer flags and a little bundle of flower petals. The weather couldn’t have been better, blue sky and a warm spring sun. A soft wind blew my prayers and flower petals towards the East, towards the continent where the funeral was being held.

I had also draped my little stone Buddha in flowers and petals and attached the prayer flags to the bushes around it. I felt thoroughly happy with it. It looked joyful. The celebration of a new beginning, not the mourning of an ending. That works for me. Though, once again, I wonder, how much it matters what the person that has passed on thinks of it. How much is their own belief paramount to my belief when it comes to dealing with the passing of a soul?

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This does kind of prove my thesis that it is much more about those who stay on. And I see in my own behaviour how important it is to come to a closure, however trivial it might seem. The feeling to do something extraordinary and beautiful for the passing soul is quite common. And little rituals like this can make the transition a little easier. I took the day off work as well. It just didn’t feel right to simply carry on with the ordinary when something out of the ordinary had happened. I felt that I needed that day to fully come to terms with it. My closure.

My little kite excursion felt like something my Godmother would have been up for. And I’m more than convinced that she thoroughly enjoyed it too. I don’t class myself as religious. I simply picked up a few ideas here and there and feel comfortable with some Buddhist practices. “You don’t need to be a Buddhist to practice Buddhism” I was once told by a Buddhist monk.

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Acceptance, as part of the five stages of grief, is coming to terms with the passing and to move on. Does taking part in a belief system make it easier to accept death? Or even, does it help to carry on living our life and to fill the hole a passing soul has left? And getting back to my thoughts on denial: do we need faith and religions to come over the denial phase, the inability to accept that someone is simply just not here anymore? Would we break if we didn’t have anything else to look at than an empty hole? Is that why I decided to feel their presence after their passing, or do I just happen to sense them anyway?

I don’t think I will be able to answer that question any time soon. I need to experience more, learn to listen more deeply to other dimensions of existence.

Love
Anna

P.S. It would greatly interest me to hear form any atheists out there who have undergone bereavement and to learn what their thoughts and emotions were.

Understanding Grief

The last few months I found myself increasingly more so occupied with thinking about death and the influence it has on those who live on. I came to the understanding that it isn’t only about those who die, but also, maybe even more so, about those who stay on after. Because it is them that have to deal with the gap the passing of an individual leaves.

More and more did I develop compassion when caring for my patients at work, opening up, becoming vulnerable, to be able to understand what others feel. A couple weeks ago did I attend a training session on end of life and advance care planning. A week ago I was talking to someone about my personal, insignificant, experiences with bereavement. A few days ago I received the news that my godmother had passed away.

It felt a bit like this was all a cunning plan. Another piece in the puzzle to understanding human feelings and behaviours. And although the news were sad and accompanied with the old lump in the throat, I still feel like I didn’t have much time to think about it properly. Almost a little too sober.

But then I have to say that there are different rules at play. A good 30 years ago, my godmother had been given about six more months to live, if at all. She dedicated every single minute of her life to helping others. She was very ill, sometimes gravely, for most of those 30 years. Still, she loved what she was doing, loved to help. She was deeply connected with the subtle world, the energetic dimension of our existence. She made good use of it, since her physical body wasn’t always very helpful, extending her sense of helping others by mere thought when unable to leave her bedroom due to another bout of illness.

Explaining this in more detail would take me away from what I try to discover. But it might help understand why I feel this deep connection with her despite the fact that I haven’t seen her all that often in the last few years. We lived in different countries. She in Denmark, I at first in Germany, now in England. When I was a child my mum and I visited her about once a year. It got less as I grew older. The last time I visited was two years ago. We spoke on the phone last at Christmas. She had sent me a book she had written.

mao

I do miss her. And I’m asking myself whether all my past recordings of sensing those around who have passed on are a mere denial of the fact that they have simply been and gone. Talking about the different stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Denial is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.

Whatever I think, whatever I want to express, whatever I want to write it is not happening. Tears have started to well up unexpectedly but not come out properly. It is building up while I’m trying to make sense of it. The situation is made more complex by the fact that “normal” grieving just doesn’t fit in here. I know that she is still around, I can feel her. I know that she is able to do an even better job now than she was ever able to while still in physical form. It is just that the communication is a little more tricky now.

The day I found out, I was at work, and after putting the phone down a trusted colleague came in and I told her. She hugged me and I felt understood. I was called away to another phone call straight after for someone to meet me. Then I had another meeting, with the chaplain (completely unrelated to talk about their work and bereavement!) and when I got back to work my boyfriend suddenly appeared saying he was in the area and popped in to say hello.

Now, this is a very untypical few hours to spend for me at work! And may I say that it really does feel like my godmother had her say in the running of it. To send another phone call straight away after I had received the news (I only very rarely get phone calls at work), as if to say that I shouldn’t start worrying and simply carry on. So typical of her! The meeting with the chaplain ( which had previously been cancelled) was another way of giving me the opportunity to talk should I feel like it (I didn’t). And then to send my boyfriend in the area (who was on work duty himself, and only did this about three times in 5 years) felt like yet another sign of ensuring I had someone there to make me feel supported. When I arrived home after work, a book I had ordered on my brothers recommendation was waiting for me. It is written by someone who was diagnosed with cancer and talks about the travels and experiences he had for the years to come. Very apt in line with her own life.

I like to see signs in things like that. Especially when they accumulate like this in a short space of time. She was always the one I thought of asking when something strange and unusual happened that nobody could explain. She was the expert in that field. Understanding and reassuring. We didn’t have enough contact, but both knew full well that the connection we had was always there. Tight and strong. And it still is.

I find it difficult to make it to the funeral. Travelling from England to Denmark on short notice is a bit of a trek. Driving is long and flying I find uncomfortable. On top of that is the university commitment, which I could skip for a few days. The unconventional thing is that I don’t need to go to someone’s funeral in order to…whatever you do at a funeral….say goodbye? I don’t need to do that. But I long for feeling her surroundings one more time, as if she was still there. Waiting for me, welcoming me, making me feel at home.

Is this what bereavement is? That this comfortable sense of belonging is broken? I worry that I will regret not going to the funeral. There will only be one. I whish life was easier than that.

As usual, I’m probably making more of a fuss about this than I deserve. I also realised that the older I get, the more these experiences will occur, the more I will learn about them. I suppose this is all part and parcel of life. A never ending cycle.

Love
Anna

The Half-Life Epiphany

Let me explain why the stories outlined below make me think about a topic that might at first not be obvious.

Yesterday’s newspaper told me that asthma is now the most common chronic disease in childhood. Together with increasing numbers of babies surviving a premature birth, childhood asthma is set to become a major problem. On the opposite page I read about Syrian refugees, women, children, elderly, who are trying to escape a life of suffering. Another article right next to it talks about a 21 year old Syrian soldier who got shot and lies in hospital with a shattered leg.

May I begin with the thesis that prolonging life at all circumstances, defying our natural tendency to die at some point or another, is once again our priority, despite the fact that life is what it has always been and always will be: a cyclic event of living and dying that only the universe can bear witness to, if only it was able to give us the reassurance we crave.

“Half-life is used to describe a quantity undergoing exponential decay, and is constant over the lifetime of the decaying quantity.” (Wikipedia)

Our population is growing fast, very fast (watch this if you want to get an idea of it). At some point we will run out of space. Maybe by then we will be going “outa space”. A thought occurred that if you survive your birth and other possible illnesses during your life you stand a good chance to be shot or encounter a similar danger to your life at another point (every watched “Final Destination”?). And the truth is that we could encounter the other side at any point in our life. For some it takes longer, others get there earlier. We won’t know. And we shouldn’t, because we would be spending all of our life dreading that one unavoidable point at the end of our life instead of simply living it.

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To come to the point, I do not mean to be pessimistic and all doom and gloom. Quite to the contrary, I believe that if we were to open our eyes fully and learn from early on about the significance of life and death, as a joint responsibility of our existence, that we will have a much more comprehensive understanding of our purpose in life. We might even be living our life much more responsibly, valuing each other, acknowledging death when it knocks on the door, grief deeply instead of suppressing our sadness but also appreciate the impact those around us have on us together with our responsibility towards our planet.

But we don’t talk about death. We simply close our eyes when it comes to this fundamental, essential, obvious part of our life cycle. But the thing is, the more we close our eyes to it the less we are able to see ourselves, our future, our unique purpose in life. We will spend our whole life living in semi-darkness, denying such a vital part of ourselves access to reality. A reality that we are living every day of our life. Why close your eyes to it?

Don’t just live in half-light believing that someone with a defibrillator will surely come running when your heart gives up, because the truth is that your heart simply gives up because it can’t stand the twilight of your existence anymore. It was never allowed to live fully, enjoy the sunshine, good honest food free from chemicals and hidden fats, dancing in the rain, denied to feel emotions to the full, to discover the world without fear or stress and to have a proper good nights sleep. It yearns to be free, it yearns for happiness. That’s why it is giving up on your half-lived existence.

These words are not meant to offend anyone, nor are they true for everyone who might read this. But in essence I hope they will wake you up from your half-life state and make you want to live your life to the full. Right here and now.

Because it is worth it! 😉

Love
Anna

Compassion in Practice

And once again did I find myself closely accompanied by death. Maybe it really is time to make friends with him, for the more compassionately I engage with others, the more they open up and tell me about their thoughts about dying.

For a long time have I hidden myself closely behind a wall, keeping a distance that I thought to be safe. Safe, as in not getting involved emotionally, to keep up my appearance, to not loose control and to not accept that one day I will indeed shake hands with death.

Compassion is something I have been reading into lately as part of a university project on the fundamentals of care. There is so much about it in the news at the moment, especially after many an inquest into neglect and failings of care standards, that I began to wonder why some people are naturally compassionate and others weren’t. And if the government proposes a more compassionate approach in care, how can anyone ensure that those working in care will suddenly release their zest for compassion and become better people? Surely that isn’t the case.

I wondered, can compassion be learnt? Looking into past research that had been done on the development on empathy, the foundation for compassion, I learned that it is the sense of connection to our mother as infants that aids the development of empathy (Goleman 2009). So, if that connection wasn’t there, research suggests that it might be the reason for psychopathy, the inability to feel for others (Lang, Klinteberg, Alm 2002).

However, some research also suggests that we are much more resilient and are able to pick up on and learn empathic behaviour through later life experiences (Clarke 1976). My conclusion is that it is likely not possible to learn compassion, however, with the right mind set and under the right conditions, compassion may be developed. But it needs personal awareness and the ability to reflect on yourself and your actions in order to change your behaviour.

Being compassionate on a busy NHS ward can be difficult. Compassion needs time, which isn’t always available. But once you take that time and fully engage with your patients, listen to them actively, acknowledge their whole being, not just the condition their in with, you will get a lot back in return.

But you also open up to the other side of life. After a life of pretty good health, with his mind still fully active, now with persistent bleeding in hospital, this 95 year old said to me: “Maybe it’s time to give in now.” He had a good life and lived it to the full and knew all too well that his body would likely not carry on in such good condition for all that long. Earlier he had told me that he has been writing into a diary every day for the past 30 years but had accepted that this was not possible now that he was here in hospital. So I went to get him some paper and a pen and suggested he carry on writing, it might put his thoughts into perspective.

A little bit later in the day, when checking on another patient of mine, he indicated that the doctors had just told him that there is nothing else they can do for him. “Them doctors were so blunt”, he said to me. I thought maybe that they were just very busy, but no, he insisted that blunt was the right word. He worried about his wife, who was of course terribly upset by the news. He then turned to me and said: “I want to go home to die.” I tried to make him comfortable, set up the radio for him which he appreciated and the last look I remember of his deep blue eyes was filled with exhaustion as much as sadness and gratitude. He passed away within two days. We couldn’t get him home in time.

Sometimes it is not the grandiose gifts and efforts that make up compassion. Quite often it is the small things, to enable someone to carry on writing, or to set up the radio for someone who needs to escape the world for a little while. I am glad I was there to do this and hope it helped. And I am saddened by the thought that some people don’t have the awareness to do something similar when the need arises.

Somehow I hope that just by me writing about it, someone might be able to develop compassion, to begin to feel for others, to develop the awareness to go that little extra step.

To sum up the essence of compassion, lets have a think how we can be more compassionate, especially when working in a care environment. Building on simple empathy, seeing the world from someone else’s view, treat others as you would want to be treated. Encourage independence. Caring with compassion doesn’t mean to take away someone’s independence by smothering them with your well-meaning care.

Listen actively to what the individual has to say, make eye contact, stop what you are doing for a moment. And when it all gets too much, time running away again, staffing low again, stop for a moment and take a deep breath, remembering that our brain needs oxygen to function properly and that to be able to emphasize we need a state of calm. And smile, even if you don’t feel like it. Chances are you might brighten someone else’s
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Leading by example means you act compassionately and others are more likely to follow suit observing the difference you make rather than lecturing them about it. And last, but certainly not least, help build a strong and positive team. Together you can make the client’s stay much more endurable and feel supported yourself at the same time.

There is certainly much more to learn about it, this is just a brief glimpse of my insights that I wanted to share with you. I hope you gained something from it.

Love
Anna

A Matter of Life – Life and Matter

The more I learn about the function and basic building blocks of our material body, the more I realise how fragile and yet fascinatingly complex and clever our material body is.

And yet, some functions are so unbelievably fascinating that it is hard to ignore the thought that there must be more to this, that this can’t possibly be “just a coincidence”.

Take a basic human cell for example. We have about 100 trillion cells within our body.  There are more atoms in one human cell than there are visible stars in the sky. Something I had outlined before here. The cell nucleus contains our DNA, our physiological past of a few million years.

A really good animation of “The inner life of a cell”.

Our cells are constantly working to regenerate our body and fuel it with a chemical reaction involving oxygen and glucose. There is a constant exchange of gases going on, diffusion of oxygen and carbon dioxide. As a living organism we are characterised by breathing, eating, elimination, reproduction, growth and movement. Yet there are still some processes that have no rational origin other than the autonomic or involuntary nervous system. Like the sinoatrial node, for example, our natural pace maker. I have written about it before. Feel free to indulge in it here.

When you begin to realise how easily this bodily cage of ours can stop working, we can either go down the route of depression and worry until the end is near, or hope for the best and carry on. Yesterday I read the following interesting facebook update:

“Every night we go to bed, we have no assurance to wake up alive the next morning, but still we set our alarm for tomorrow. That’s hope.”

How true this is. How much we simply trust that our body is going to carry on regardless and hope for a better tomorrow. Most of us don’t give it a second thought how we treat our body. Are we naïve? Is naivety what drives us to carry on living? What do we need to believe in, in order to do this thing we call living on this planet? What are we hoping tomorrow will bring?

And why are we carrying on prolonging this life by all means? What is so special about it that it deserves all our attention, even if it is way after our bodily sell-by date? Today I learned that in cases where someone is declared brain dead, it is possible for the heart to carry on beating for a week or more, providing there is a constant supply of oxygen available. Once again, the sinoatrial node still triggers, despite at a lower rate but consistently. Why? Does it maybe follow a different energetic impulse altogether? One that can not be perceived by the standard human senses?

I sometimes get flashes of being removed from my physical body. This is a weird sensation. But it puts my physical hull into a different perspective. The sense that the essence of who or what I am is not necessarily dependent on the matter that we call life, but merely something likened to a special suit that helps me to wander atop the earth and interact with others on here. Although I may not be quite sure why I chose to do this. Sometimes it can be very hard indeed to come to terms with the limitations of a physical existence in a body consisting of 26 elements of earthly matter.

Some people are absolutely sure that there is absolutely nothing going on anymore after their death. Once again I believe ignorance to be bliss. However, will it give those non-believers the full satisfaction of a life lived to the fullest? I can’t help but wonder what the point is in just one such thing as a single experience of life. My urge to explore these possibilities is driven by a hunger to know and understand, not just the need to believe in more. Such a pity I likely won’t know until I get there myself. But I’m sure life would loose a lot of it’s fascination if we all knew what would happen after.

And they cycle of thought continues 🙂

Love
Anna

A State of Mind

After two busy twelve hour shifts I awake tired and achy, unwilling to move or do anything for that matter.

I force myself out of bed at 10am only to get back into it less than three hours later. There I lie, reading a few pages in my book, before I loose the rest of my concentration and focus for the world and roll over in an attempt to sleep a little more.

Just sleep doesn’t want to come. I waft in and out of a dozing half-sleep state, a few thoughts making their way through the processing centre of my brain.

I actually enjoy this state of interbeing, being one with everything without actually doing anything. In fact, I was way too tired to sit upright and meditate and even my yoga practice was abandoned prematurely due to a slight sensation of light-headedness and lack of limb control.

As I lie there, one of the patients I was looking after over the past two days came into my mind. He has tetraplegia, paralyzed from the neck down, with just a little uncoordinated movement in his arms.

Once again I try to put myself into the position of such an individual, which is impossible, and unfortunately I don’t see it as acceptable to ask such an individual how they feel about it, especially not from my position as the care-giver.

However, the question has been with me for years and since I can’t find an answer it comes up again and again: how is it to be unable to move?

Even if I was to ask an individual and would be invited to gain an insight into his/her thoughts and emotions, it would only represent this one particular individual, not all those who are paralysed. Books  like “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” or stories like Tony Nicklinson’s case help to gain an insight, though both of them were unable to communicate verbally.

What I always find remarkable is the contentment I encounter in individuals who are paralyzed but still able to talk. Rarely have I come across someone who represents a difficult individual with a negative mindset. The majority are witty people with a wicked sense of humour.

Is it vital for us humans to communicate in order for life to make sense?

In cases of those who are paralyzed and able to talk, apart form the fact that they can’t mobilise, they seem to enjoy a mentally engaging life. Some learn languages, others travel abroad, and a lot of those I had the pleasure of meeting talk about their state of the art TV set that they can control with the blink of their eye which offers them much more than just TV and internet. As the story goes, some care homes even arrange escorts on their resident’s wishes. (watch “The Sessions“)

Dare to smile?

Another burning question: are they really happy?

As I blissfully enjoy my lazy state of interbeing, my legs all heavy and my back achy, I wonder if this is what it feels like for a paralyzed individual. Are they happy that they don’t really have a care in the world beside requiring others to look after them and enduring the processes of manual evacuation and washes under the constant eyes of others? Dare I wonder if they enjoy not having to move, having to go shopping, having to cook? Or is this too patronising and violates their dignity and respect?

Their sheer joy for life seems to stand out. It must give them something, otherwise they would have given up by now, like Tony Nicklinson, for example. I have seen the process of simply giving up so many times, that I can say that if someone loses the will to live, they usually begin to loose their appetite first, followed by a physical deterioration resulting in poor health and unless they can bring the spark back into their lives, they will simply cease to exist.

This does apply a lot more to the older generation, who have lost partners, most friends, don’t have many family members, have a physical ailment and are tired of being ill and don’t want to be a nuisance to others. It is quite sad to watch, but I can also emphasize and understand their point.

In paralyzed individuals who are able to communicate effectively, I observe a gist for life and a very healthy appetite. I would assume that it means that these particular individuals have accepted their condition to be part of their life and make the most of it.

I suppose all the above questions and contemplations refer back to myself and my very last question: would I want to live like that?

Considering I am a very intellectually active person, loving to teach and spread my acquired knowledge, and also bringing in my awareness of a much subtler world around us that can be engaged with by thought, I think I would be happy to still have the chance to be able to share my knowledge, even if my physical body wasn’t any longer following my mental commands.

In the case that I was unable to express my thoughts properly, I think I would rather like to go back to the state where I came from before I was born, in which the physical world doesn’t play a part, wherever that may be.

I have developed a huge respect for these paralyzed individuals followed by an ever increasing compassion towards them. And at the end of the day I have to say that I see this as the purpose of living, to learn about ourselves as much as we learn about others. And when we are able to understand others, we will also be able to understand more about ourselves.

And vice versa 🙂

Love
Anna

Natural Selection

I notoriously try to avoid the news. I just can’t bear to listen to all the negativity, deaths, assaults, wars, economic disasters and poverty and starvation in poor countries.

It makes me very very  sad, touches a seed inside of me that I do not wish to water. Why is it that bad news sell better than good news?

Is it naïve or selfish to prefer to live in my little bubble of happiness, trying to keep my little candle alight amidst all the disasters of the world happening around me?

I do like to help others keep their candle alight, teach them a way to practice life more peacefully and at ease with themselves. But ultimately it is their own responsibility to look after their candle light and to ensure it isn’t blown out by the threatening wind created by bad news and other’s opinions.

There are people who predict the end of the world quite frequently and others who say the financial system is going to go bust and that America is going to go down just like Atlantis did.

They don’t mean to upset anyone, they actually try to make us aware of what is about to come so that we are prepared for when it happens.

Just when is this extra knowledge worth the worries? Wouldn’t it be much better that we aim for a peaceful way of living and dying instead of spending our life preparing for a possibly disastrous end?

And why is it that we need to survive by all means? If I think that a massive wave of water is going to hit our coast and make its way inland over the flood planes, is my house going to survive? How about I ensure my car has inflatables build in underneath so that it can float for a little while or even build a helicopter type construction under the roof so that it can lift me up to the next higher hill?

You see, that’s the effect bad news has on me. They send me a little barmy. My innate sense for survival kicking in and looking for solutions to survive straight away.

What are we in the face of evolution?

Now, I do believe in the power of thought and law of attraction, as it has worked repeatedly in my favour, and also, I hasten to say, against me. What you put out you are likely to get. So what about these conspiracy theories? Wouldn’t it be basic law of attraction at work, should we all worry about the end of the world, that it will indeed happen?

Shouldn’t we instead focus on simple life changes to bring about a healthy planet and inhabitants?

There is a reason I don’t listen to the news or engage in political polls or discussions. Call me ignorant, but I simply don’t see how it is going to change anything if we all trust into someone to make changes for us instead of beginning with the change within ourselves.

If you want a better world, begin to create one instead of waiting for someone to create it for you!

Natural disasters have been part of shaping the universe long before the existence of humans and it will likely carry on happening. I suppose we have to accept that and consider looking at it from a slightly different angle, seeing it more as natural selection than a catastrophe, despite the obviously sad impact on family and friends that may have lost against nature, which is sad, I don’t deny that.

But I also think that, if we ourselves weren’t so ignorant to believe that we could live forever, and face the fact that we will all die one day, that maybe this acceptance of our ultimate vulnerability would lead us to value our short existence on this planet in the face of human and planetary evolution and make the best of it.

So build yourself a bubble to protect your own light, lead by example and create a better world now!

Love
Anna

The Look in His Eyes

I have spent the last few days caring for a man with Multiple Sclerosis. He is unable to talk properly and move any part of his body other than a few facial muscles. At first it was difficult to find out what he tried to communicate to me but with every day it got a little bit better. If I wasn’t sure what he meant I asked him to blink once for a yes and twice for a no. It was quite funny at times when I asked him to blink only once to confirm if I got it right and he just stared back at me blankly, yet with a light grin on his face trying not to move or accidentally blink which clearly meant that I had gotten it wrong again.

We have quite a few patients coming in from the same home that he is living at. They are all paralysed in one way or another to a more or lesser extent. Some had sudden accidents that had damaged their spine and others succumbed to an illness like MS, that creeps up on you slowly.  Most of those patients are hard work, physically, because they are unable to move properly and need a lot of care. This only from the outside. From the inside, however, they are absolutely wonderful people with really interesting personalities and quite a wicked sense of humour. Only rarely did I find that someone from this care home was grumpy and unhappy. They all seem to thoroughly enjoy a happy life. I wonder, what gives them the drive to carry on living?

Last year we had Tony Nicklinson in the news, a man who was also unable to move his body, fighting for the right to die but wasn’t granted his wish. I wrote a blog on the topic of death and dying back then already. Interestingly, the man I have been looking after over the past few days didn’t want to die at all! He appeared tremendously content with himself. Sadly he is currently quite unwell and needed intense hospital care with his chances of recovery being slim. But he insisted for quite a long time to remain for resuscitation. Again the question in my head: What gives him the urge to carry on living? And how did it all start?

I asked a friend of his who came to visit him regularly if she could tell me a little bit more about him. She said that she had known him for the past 10 years and told me that he used to lead a very active life as a Civil Servant until the onset of MS when his wife left him because she didn’t feel like she could care for him and has only two other relatives that visit him occasionally. His illness started with numbness in his little finger about 20 years ago. The past 16 years he had spent paralysed at the special care home. He has a huge telly that he can operate with eye movement where he gets his entertainment and information from. His friend also mentioned that he has a very strong will and has areas of interest that he follows.

When I met him first I was taken back by his intense eyes, full of information, full of expression full of unspoken words. These eyes are on you whenever you look at him. This morning they were vague and turned upwards to the ceiling and my heart sank at the thought that his condition had gotten worse. But during the course of the day he perked up a little and was even able to throw a few surprise sentences into the room. For example, when I offered to switch the radio on for him and went to get some headphones he hissed “No I don’t want those” quite clearly. Not so clear was the information that he didn’t take milk in his tea, which, for English standards, is rather unusual hence it took me a little bit longer to work it out. There are so many things that I would like to ask him.

It must be so hard to not be able to bring your point across properly. But I guess that at his home he is happy because people there know him and he has everything he needs. It hit me surprisingly hard when I was told earlier that he would be moved to another ward because we needed his bed space for an emergency admission. After all the effort to try and get to know him, to begin to communicate, find out what he likes and especially for him to get comfortable in an unfamiliar hospital environment, he was now to be moved to another department only to start all over again. And I don’t want to make it sound like the staff there won’t look well after him, but I did worry that it would worsen his condition and that he would give up on himself. I escorted him to the other department and left with a big lump in my throat after a much too short goodbye.

What does it mean anyway? Who is he to me – who am I to him?

These emotions topped a recent encounter of the daughter of a former relative who recognized me outside work and said that I had looked so well after her father and that he used to call me his angel. Her little daughter chirped in straight away: “He used to say that to all of the nurses.” Of course he would, he was a lovely gentleman. Gentle in any way. Though there must be something about her saying this to me, because at times he would decline help by other members of staff insisting to wait until I was available because I “had a certain way of doing things”, as he would put it. He passed away a week ago. But he was also happy.

So what more do words express compared to the look in someone’s eyes? If we had only a certain amount of words available, what would we spend them on?

Love
Anna

The Many Stages of Grief and Belief

I have just tackled the last unit on death and dying in my diploma. I wanted to do this unit because it forms such a big part of my job and is also an interesting topic that I wanted to learn more about. However, it took me a good year until I finally actually started it. And this was not only because nobody passed away while I was on duty, which should be a positive thing really, but probably more so because a little insecurity signalled that I might have to begin to look behind my emotional barriers and address my own issues to do with endings and the passing of others and myself.

Death is an uncertainty. Yet, the only certainty is death. This concerns humans as much as animals, plants, the whole universe. But because we only know life as it is, it can frighten us to not know what will happen. Uncertainty is often worse. A saying by Paulo Coelho goes: “Fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself”.

Death can happen at any time, yet we walk around with a distinct sense of security. This helps us to live our life to the full, which we wouldn’t be able to were we to worry about potential dangers around every corner. Death at a young age is usually seen as more tragic, compared to a natural end after a long and successful life. Just, how much more tragic is a gradual decline with Alzheimers, which can weigh heavily on relatives and carers, not to mention the individual himself, compared to a sudden death, maybe due to an accident, where the suffering might be more intense but shortened? At what point are we considered to be “at the end of our life”, if we know that one day we will quite definitely die anyway? How accurate are diagnoses in relation to life expectancy, if some outlive theirs by a few decades, whereas other’s comes to an end unexpectedly quick? These questions remain mostly unanswered, partially because we have no control over life, even with all the medical enhancements, and also because we all experience fear and grief differently.

While working my way through this unit I happened to stumble across a related article in a newspaper. It was about a young doctor that had recently been diagnosed with cancer and had written about both sides, her experiences as a doctor and now as a patient. I ordered both her books straight away (intake goes to charity) and am following her blog (http://drkategranger.wordpress.com). She is exactly my age, which, together with my current thought processes on dealing with death and worrying about ovarian cysts, found its way into my deepest inner self. How would I feel if I was suddenly diagnosed with a terminal illness? What would I do? On top of it comes the worry of my partner that I would rather die young than undergo invasive treatments, since I tend to prefer the natural approach to illnesses.

Since we are all individuals with different life experiences and beliefs, we will all deal with death differently. Some get overtly emotional and cry, others simply withdraw, unable to talk about their feelings. There are those who express anger, who don’t want to give up, who think they have many things left to do and can’t see how they can possibly do it all with the time they have left. They would give anything for a little more time. There are worries about pain and suffering. And there are those who accept this part of life for what it is and often become the rock for their relatives and friends, who might have an even harder time coping with the upcoming loss, since they are the ones left with a gap in their lives. All these responses go hand in hand with the five stages of grief, as outlined by Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These can affect everyone involved in someone’s death. The dying individual as much as relatives, old acquaintances and those involved in the care.

How we deal with death depends on our belief or religion. Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs for example, believe in re-birth, whereas the belief of a Jehovah’s Witness is that their whole existence stops forever when a person dies. Atheists do not hold any belief at all. Christianity proposes that life is a gift from God which is available to all who believe and seek forgiveness and the Mormon Church views life as a test to see if we are ready to return to God after death. Judaism holds the belief that death is the end of earthly life, but that eternal life is offered if we have the right relationship with God. Islamic practises see death as a transition from one state of being to another as part of the will of Allah. (From The Royal Marsden Clinical Nursing Procedures)

Some people only begin to find solace in a religious belief when they are in despair, even if they didn’t belief in anything whatsoever during their whole life. The opposite can be the case as well. Sadly I have known someone who was very dedicated to his spiritual beliefs during his lifetime but was said to have lost all his faith just before he died, making his passing very unsettling for him and those near him.

Then last night there was a documentation on TV about death row in the US. They interviewed those on life sentence and talked about those who had been sentenced to death. This takes on a completely different view on death. Surely, these prisoners must have done terrible things to be sentenced to death. How do they deal with what they have done and what will happen to them? With homicide as much as with euthanasia, the question is: who can justify a killing of another being?

I could probably say that I find it easier to cope with death than the process of dying. I am generally quite open to anything, yet there comes a point where I encounter a natural barrier, something that stops me opening up too much to a situation in order to avoid getting upset. Or maybe even more out of fear that I would lose control over my emotions.

I would do most things for my patients, but sometimes I rather feel like not getting too involved in their care, or with them personally, because I fear I would be overwhelmed with emotions. Sometimes I feel that I am unable to offer all my sympathy and concern a situation requires and end a conversation with a pat on the arm and a reassuring word and smile, which appears rather awkward and foolish to me.

It was a huge moment of change for me when I began working in care, at first being terrified to apply personal care. This has now become routine for me over the years, but it doesn’t have any personal emotions attached to it. Even though you consider dignity, personal preferences and apply a professional standard, there is a difference between a routine bed bath and a comforting hug or holding someone’s hand. It requires a different set of emotional awareness, and actually also preparedness.

The worst is if someone, and this relates to anyone, even in my private life, begins to cry. My immediate response used to be to just run away, to just not have to deal with it. More recently I have begun to remain calm and just listen. To give the individual time to get the first tears out, let the first steam out of the kettle, and then to offer constructive support, to just be there for them, without being overly sympathetic. I am aware of these processes and am still working on them. Attending a course for basic counselling skills has hugely contributed to my awareness and development.

Very “coincidental” came the natural conversation with a patient about his acceptance of death being the gate to eternity, as he called it. He was talking about how he had served in Australia during the war and had only come back to the UK to see his parents, when he fell in love and ultimately become a Christian because of his mother-in-law. He never used to believe in anything in particular before that, if anything than rather more in guides. Now he sais that he has ticked all the boxes that allowed him to go back to God. He had asked for forgiveness for all his sins, had lived a good and interesting life and was rather excited to see what would happen when he finally passed over. He was actually doing really well for 93. I liked his open and cheerful attitude towards death. Of course, a natural death after a long and happy life would be the best option. Wouldn’t it?

A year on after writing about endings I have maybe come a little bit closer to accepting that everything ends one day. Still, we won’t know what will happen after. But I firmly belief that it will be our own belief that will influence that moment for the better or worse. Which way will you choose?

Love
Anna

About Life and Death

Probably the most controversial question in the world: “Who are we to decide to artificially prolong life by any means but not grant someone their wish to die whose illness is taking over their life up to the point that they lose all control?”

During my work in a nursing home I could never quite get over the question what the purpose is for someone who is classed as confused, incontinent and immobile with hearing and visual impairment, practically incapable of doing anything for themselves, requiring full-time care. Certainly it can’t be justified to say that this person is a waste of space. There are human rights that tell us to respect each individual and give all care in a dignified way. But where is that dignity and respect in regard to that person not wanting to live anymore? It is against the law to aid death, even if the person requests it. Is death really that bad that we have to do everything we can to keep someone alive even if they want to die?

Those who decide over another’s life are usually the relatives, husband or wife, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, who don’t want to accept that it is the end, by stating that they want resuscitation by any means in order to prolong that life a little bit longer. Nobody asks the soul in that body if it can stand the pain and if it would like to stay a bit longer or if it has learned enough and would like to go home. It is being forced to carry on with pain or without by loving relatives who can’t say goodbye but who mostly couldn’t or wouldn’t care for it either. So it spends the last months of it’s life alone in it’s room with carers who are always busy only stopping by to give the standard care, food and drinks.

I now work in a clinical environment where the main aim is to get people up and going again, but obviously also to be there when the end arrives. Countless times have elderly patients responded to my question of how they are with “Just shoot me”, “I just want to die”, “Please let me go” and one patient only recently continuously prayed to God to please take him and release him from his suffering. This is heart breaking and I feel such a fool by answering “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that.”

All I can do is to make them as comfortable as possible and to just be there for them if they need you. When will we realise that in some cases we have to accept the end and move on. It is not up to us to decide to artificially prolong life, but still we do. Instead we ought to be allowed to end our lives when we knowingly enter a stage in life from which we know there will be no going up. But by law, this is not granted. And I am well aware of the danger and the thought process behind it.

I recently happened to listen to the end of a discussion on television in which a disabled man, who was unable to communicate properly, confined to a wheelchair, asked to be able to end his life. The opposing person (I unfortunately didn’t catch who he was) explained that they simply can’t justify to take someones life. Right they are, we can’t. And I understand that the general fear would be that others would take advantage of it and use it for their own gain, not in favour of someone’s disability. But that’s why it is important to be able to make an informed decision while we are still fully compos mentis. Unfortunately, life sometimes happens unexpectedly.

The biggest issue, I think, is death itself. But who says that death really is the end?
Due to the drastic improvements in medicines, more and more people are now reporting so called near death experiences(NDE). Advances in medical science and the fact that more people die in hospitals rather than at home means that more people are being successfully resuscitated and therefore more likely to experience a NDE. Already in 1937, an anonymous physician described his NDEs but was worried about the effect of going public. Until today, death is still the ultimate taboo. Billions are spent on keeping dying patients alive for a few extra days or weeks, prolonging their agony in exchange for a few precious moments of life. Because life is everything and death is seen as the ultimate full stop.

Because those that had been clinically dead had brought back clear memories of what was going on around them it suggests that consciousness might not be located in the brain. So, if our consciousness and awareness of who we are isn’t located in the brain is there a chance that it also doesn’t die with the brain? This is the crux of the near death experience debate. Are those reporting tunnels, beings of light, meeting deceased relatives simply recounting fantasies brought on by medications or brain chemicals or the body’s natural reaction to trauma?

Whether it is real or not, if death is good or bad is not the final question. Certainly, we have free will and the choice to come back or stay away, don’t we? If only our physical body remains, maintained by machinery, where are we? Do we really want to go back into a body that doesn’t function properly anymore. A “vehicle” that we can’t control? This brings us back to our life plan. Certainly, if our plan is to make a change or bring attention to this issue we will live and fight for it.

I think it is ironical that society is spending more and more on the latest machinery to “fix” people’s physical problems, put them back together, make them live longer but at the same time creating chaos because society isn’t prepared for the increasing amount of people who live longer but need fulltime care. The mind isn’t necessarily equipped to follow the prolonged life of the body, thus creating more and more cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It seems as if the soul’s purpose had been achieved and it was the natural time for the body to disintegrate, but that process was prevented and so created a zombie-like entity which lives but doesn’t function properly anymore. Not to mention the pension problems…. When will we realise that life and death go hand in hand and are the most natural part of our existence, in actual fact have been ever since the world was created zillions of years ago.

I do have to point out here that I don’t look at individuals but generally at the question why we are to artificially prolong life but not help those with a terminal disease who are well aware that their condition will stop them from carrying on their normal life and that due to these circumstances they do not want to carry on living. I refer to informed decisions. Another issue would certainly be the soul purpose and the general growth by experience of a soul. There a plenty of things to consider but none of them will justify the suffering of a human being which is bed bound, in pain, unable to move any part of the body apart from facial expressions and hushed words which clearly state they don’t want to live anymore.

And while this question is not for me to be answered I will keep on concentrating on each individual at any stage of their life to help them as much as I can in making their time on this planet worthwhile and a little bit more bearable. On the way I am practicing compassion and begin more and more to see the Inner Self of people, their true being, which shines through regardless of their physical age and which appears to work more on a heart-to-heart connection than mere words. We ought to learn to listen more with our heart.

Love
Anna

Endings

The last lesson of my recent basic counselling skills course is here and I am really not concerned at all. At the end I will simply get up, maybe exchange a few more contact detail or not and leave. That was at least the plan.

When the end was physically there, however, I was hardly able to get off my chair.

Why is that I wonder?

During today’s lesson we obviously spoke about endings. Our tutor explained the four different stages. First comes the preparation, for us to be ready, the warning. Next comes the disengagement, the actual end where at times we can encounter denial. Then there is the separation stage in which we or others leave or move away which can bring up quite a few emotions. And after that we will face a new beginning, goals, anything new.

But when do we know that we are ready for a new beginning?
How do we say our goodbye?

There are good and bad ways of saying goodbye. I usually run away, avoid this situation at all costs because something in me doesn’t like the sadness of it. I rather pretend that we will see each other again at some point or another and to just keep it light as that. A quick wave or hand shake, a few nice words, a smile, even a hug will be acceptable but I don’t like to think about the potential incident that it could in fact really be the very last time ever that I see that particular person. That thought would simply crush me. And I don’t even know why.

Once again this is a thought that has settled somewhere in my psyche and I will leave it for another day to ponder on the complex mystery which is the human behaviour.

Now, this I think was a bad example of goodbye. A good one would probably be when you look a person in the eye and express how much you enjoyed their company and you might exchange a good hand shake or a deep hug, maybe even a kiss depending on what connection you had and you make sure you don’t leave anything unsaid and you lovingly release them to follow their path wherever it may take them.

Ok, this was a very deep version of a goodbye. There are also endings that we don’t even notice. There are endings all the time. Pop, another second has passed, gone, ended. Now a minute has just ended, the morning is already over and this day will soon be over too. The week usually goes ever so quick and by the way we are already in April so March has ended so did work yesterday and I haven’t been a teen for years and so on and on and on…

Another classic example would be when we go shopping, get out of the car and all we think about is our shopping list. We didn’t even waste a single second thinking about the car journey that has just ended or that we indeed left the house before we even got into the car.

And what is worse? To leave or to be left? Observing my own reactions I believe that it makes it worse the more we are attached emotionally. When I moved town when I was about 12 I wasn’t really paying much attention to what I left behind, I instead looked forward to what was about to come. Whereas my friends I left behind in that house told me a few years later how much they were crying because they were so sad that I wouldn’t be around anymore. And how distraught was I when a good childhood friend of mine suddenly had a much better friend and I wasn’t her first choice anymore. She surely wasn’t as sad as me, she had something new to look out for.

I have realised that I miss out on valuable experiences by not ending things properly. I never had a leaving party at any of my places of work, I don’t get any feedback from my patients at work because I just run out of the door when my shift is over and there are many unresolved problems with people where I never explained my point of view properly partially because I didn’t know how to at that time.

So all these thoughts and considerations suddenly weighed heavily on me while I was clinging on to my chair at the final end of our last lesson. And our tutor had kindly reminded us constantly throughout that this lesson would end precisely when it was set to end and that after that it will never be the same again.

Of course this was all part of the course, a learning experience, raising awareness, but it brought up sheer panic in me because all this previous fear that I had been avoiding by not engaging in too deep a goodbye now bubbled up to the surface like a hot mud pool.

And how did I deal with it?

I didn’t really. I instructed myself to pay more attention to it in the future but I am still quite bad at it. I think there is something else locked away inside of me that needs shifting first before I can engage in a proper and meaningful goodbye.

Maybe it starts by valuing more what we got and live every single moment of life as if it was the last.

I am working on it 😉

Love
Anna