Goodbye Grandfather

Written by a 3rd year student nurse.

My grandfather was one of my biggest inspirations. He migrated to the UK from India  in the hope of building a better life for his family. He worked hard and remained humble, he had a calming demeanour about him, he looked wise with his white silky beard always a smile on his face. He lived with us since I was a toddler, he picked me up from school, he bought me sweets from the corner shop, he told me stories, taught me about religion and faith. Teachings of equality, courage, humility, kindness and service to all. Encouraging me to become a nurse, in effort to serve humanity.

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I always felt he spoilt me, his only granddaughter alongside many grandsons.
He lived till 94, a good life, he got to meet his great grand children and in the end he didn’t suffer. He was admitted to hospital with a recurrent chest infection, spent the weekend there and was due to come home on the Monday. We were all excited he was feeling better and due to come home.
Monday morning came, 5am my mum asked me to come downstairs with no offer of an explanation. I Walked into the living room, silence all around, my parents sat there, my aunt, my brother, cousins and there wives filled with sadness.
I laughed, what are you all doing here at this time, deep down I knew why at least I think I did. My cousin spoke, baba (grandfather) he’s gone, ‘gone?’ He’s passed away.
It felt like the ground, my foundation, who I was had been ripped from under me, with unexplainable pain in my stomach, my body weak and heart heavy, words I could not comprehend, filled with confusion ‘he was coming home today’
As my brother hugged me tight, consuming me with strength and love while tears fall from my eyes, still with no explanation.
The morning came, the living room had changed White sheets cover the floor, people sitting all over, being served spiced hot tea the aroma filling the room with warm refreshments, people expressed their sadness at our loose. The community gathered to morn, show their respects to offer their condolences. They were welcomed gathering in our home were we lived, we grew up. They offered their words to help, they made comments, how my grandfather loved me, how proud he was of us all. We knew this, he made it a point to remind us but how much did it mean when they said it.
I remember the despair on my cousins face when he had to explain to his 5 year old son our grandfather had gone to heaven, our eyes filled with tears when he asked ‘when we could go see him in heaven’
We were blessed to have a big family, we gathered everyday until the funeral we remembered our grandfather, he valued family above all else. We reminisced All our memories together over dinner every night for 1.5 weeks we remembered, we laughed, we cried, we shared and we loved. We offered each other strength and comfort, somehow, somewhere it came.
The funeral day came, in Sikhism we believe in reincarnation, an individual follows the circle of 8.4 billion life forms until it reaches complete freedom. The body is just a vessel but to us although he had passed he still looked like our grandfather, can it ever be easy to just let go.
We are taught to be kind and compassionate, have courage and I believe no one should die alone. Holding someone’s hand while they lay there dying, they lived a life, a life full of happiness and sadness and over time they aged and at this moment regardless of the life lived they deserve to die in peace and with compassion. But what about our loved ones, do they wait for us, there relatives to leave them before they take there last breaths. I left my grandfather in the hope that I would see him tomorrow I didn’t get to say goodbye. But I’m not truly sure we ever really say goodbye. He has and will stay with me in all that I do, in spirituality, the  memories and his teachings.
Always and forever.

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“No Touch” death

A blog by Sarah Rippon, Emergency Response Nurse, Sierra Leone

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I would like to talk about ‘no touch’ death. This is something that I have only recently witnessed and something I hope I don’t have to again any time soon.

Working in an Ebola Treatment Centre in Sierra Leone presents many challenges which I feel I need describe to fully appreciate a ‘no touch’ death.

From the moment a patient steps foot into the centre….even before, in the ambulance, they are treated like hazard material. Their communities won’t touch them, the ambulance drivers shout instructions through the car window and when they finally get to us they are met by people in space suits. Although we are safe to touch them we are encourage to only have essential contact. The patients have all of their belongings destroyed, so anything that may have given them a sense of identity they are stripped of. The patients are told to not have contact with any of the other patients……because remember they too are hazard material.

As for staff in the centre the only contact we have with patients is when we are dressed in all our protective equipment, 3 or 4 times a day, 10 minutes at a time. All the patients can see are our eyes, and in my case a white persons eyes…..something else that is alien to them. The care we can give is limited, IV fluids and pain relief. Normally as a nurse when someone is in pain or distressed I would use touch as a form of comfort. This is discouraged. So you stand and watch.

We admitted two 28 day old babies, twins, a boy and a girl, their mother and their grandmother. Their father had died at home, their mother died within hours of their arrival and the baby girl did not last much longer. The boy’s results showed positive for Ebola while grandma’s was negative. She had to make the decision to stay or go. She chose to leave, she now had seven other grandchildren to look after, and by staying she was putting them at risk. We therefore had to enter the red zone more often to feed and treat him. Cuddling was a ‘no no’. Babies have an incredibly high viral load when poorly with Ebola so their bodily fluids are extremely infectious. I had to fight every instinct not to pick him up and rock him to ease his pain, but I had to think of my family back home. Twelve hours in he was not doing well. His little body was failing. We knew it would not be long but exactly how long we could not tell. Each of us would reluctantly leave the little man knowing that we may be the last to see him alive. He lasted 18 hours and died alone. To say there was a feeling of helplessness is an understatement. The anger I felt was raw and in my mind completely justified. This death along with the many thousands more was not a painless one surrounded by family and friends with someone holding your hand. All these people had done was have the misfortune of being born in a country with one of the highest levels of poverty in the world.

The story does not end with death. At the point of death and for hours afterwards is when the virus is at it’s most potent. So after all the suffering, any remaining family, whose traditions say they must wash and touch the body to ensure their loved one has peace after death, are prevented from doing so. National campaigns are focused on discouraging the traditional burial practices, once again stripping people of their identity. If they decide their traditions are more important or they simply do not believe Ebola exists then it will mean almost certain death and the cycle keeps on turning.

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Nana

On the back of my last post I had a conversation with another student nurse; we talked about how odd things can make you think of the people we have lost.

For me this is a squirrel. When I was young my Nanna died, I was devastated we were close she lived next door but one and I would see her ever day. She was my best friend. Her death was sudden and not at all expected. I recall been ushered away for the day, my brother, cousin and I went on a day out with my dad and Uncle, this was not uncommon but I knew something was going on. On our return we were told our Nanna had died.

Now to the squirrel: on the day of her funeral, which happened to be my 11th birthday, there was a squirrel on a window ledge at my Nanna’s house. Since then they seem to pop up all the time, and I now associate them with my Nanna. When I am feeling a bit low or fed up a squirrel will just appear, on my first day of university there was a squirrel in the car park and I’m almost certain there will be a squirrel at my graduation.

I was fairly sure that my Mum felt the same about squirrels so I asked her to tell me about them and here’s what she said:

It all started the day your Nanna died, there was a squirrel on her window ledge, it stayed all day until your auntie and I said “its ok mum you can go” shortly after that it left. Then squirrels kept appearing like you said on the funeral day, the birth of your Nanna’s niece, and whenever I go to the cemetery. Your Granddad has a squirrel that comes most days to watch him through his window, when we see it we comment on how she is watching us.

When I see squirrels they remind me of my mum… They just show me that she is there. They are a way of associating something you see often with someone that you cannot.

She went on to say that for her squirrels were a way of keeping her memory alive.

Unsurprisingly when I was driving home after this conversation there was a squirrel.

So together we cried talked about my Nanna and Squirrels and I came to the conclusion that I like having the squirrels around they give me a since of security that she is watching over me, this for me is a strange concept as I am not a religious or spiritual person, but neither the less I want to keep seeing them.

Lets Talk Death: Conference … find out more

For Dying matters week 2015 The University of Bradford has chosen to coordinate a Death café and run a Conference surrounding current issue around death. Both events are predominantly organised by students within the Faculty of Health at the University. The purpose of these events is to get people thinking and talking about issues around death.

The following are abstracts from a selection of our speakers for the #letstalkdeath conference.

14:00- Let’s Talk after death too

Jan R Oyebode, Professor of Dementia Care

When someone dies we feel we have lost them; and of course, we have lost the living two-way relationship with them. However, we all know the saying: ‘Those who die live on in the hearts of those who remember them’. In this talk, I shall discuss the way we talk to and about those who have died. These forms of talk are examples of one strand of the phenomenon called ‘continuing bonds’, which describes the emotional connection we may still feel with those who have died. Talk with, and about, the dead can provide us with comfort and guidance. In this presentation I shall give examples from studies in the UK and Pakistan that show how such talk gives the person who has died a continuing influence in our lives, and brings benefit to those who are bereaved.

14:30 Groundhog grief   – Managing the Bereaved Individual Living with Dementia

Martin Neal, Lecturer and PhD student

For the individual living with dementia the condition has multiple, physical and psychological impacts. For many individuals this will include a gradual loss of a reality grounded in the present day- the here and now. Those individuals who move out of “our” reality and progress to enter a reality of the past – the then and there ; coupled with a declining or absent short term memory can find themselves in a position where they experience the bereavement for the first time in a repetitive and distressing way.

This session will aim to provide and discuss alternate strategies for managing the often challenging situation of what to say and do when some with dementia has forgotten their spouse or partner has died. The purpose being to help the person avoid the painful scenario of having to relive the news of their bereavement for the first time over and over, thereby enabling them to avoid a Groundhog Day situation from which they cannot move on or escape.

15:00- Dawn Thompson- A personal experience

15:30 Continuing Bonds: Exploring the meaning and legacy of death through past and contemporary practice

Laura Middleton-Green, Lecturer and PhD student

I will present a summary of a research project that is due to start in early 2016, led by Dr Karina Croucher from the School of Archeology in the Faculty of Life Sciences along with Professor Christina Faull from LOROS Hospice, Leicester. The aim of the study is to demonstrate tangibly how archaeology can inform our current attitudes to death and dying, and be used to explore the value of collaboration between health care professionals and archaeologists. The diverse methods of dealing with death and the dead uncovered by archaeologists will bring a different perspective to our current attitudes and therefore contribute towards a necessary re-examination of today’s taboo status of death as an inevitable human experience. Through creating a compendium of insights into death through time, particularly the fundamental resonance of bereavement, loss and commemoration, the project will shape thinking on how contemporary practice and historical perspectives can be mutually informed. I will provide some background to the study, including some preliminary exploratory work that has been carried out with post-registration nursing students, with volunteers and staff in Rotherham Hospice, and with LOROS hospice in Leicester. I will open the topic for an interactive discussion and debate with conference delegates.

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We are really looking forward to the week, and to some lively and thought-provoking conversations about this important but often invisible topic.

The #letstalkdeath Team

My experience

A blog by Kate Palmer, a second year mental health nursing student

I’m asked to write a blog for Dying Matters week. I don’t really know what a blog is. ‘Just write whatever you want, whatever you’ve got to say’, I’m told.

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I start to write an essay; trying to say something profound, witty, not-too-heavy, not-too-personal, nothing to cause offense. I even consider adding references from academic works. I attempt to weave together some universal experience, something I hope the reader might relate to, maybe draw from.

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I write the same opening paragraph 11 times over 3 days…

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I stop. I don’t know what to write about death or dying. It’s not as if I can write something new or original about the subject. I can’t order death into a neat package, made palatable with a few throw away quips to attempt to lighten the mood.

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So, I get angry with it; ranting, sweary type of anger, born from frustration with the inability to put my feelings into words. Despondent, I can’t understand where my tears are coming from. I swing from self- pity to trying to ‘get a grip’ to feeling like a survivor.

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So, I decide I will just tell you about my experience of death.

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My Dad, Joe died in 1985 after cancer got him. I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s how it was and how it felt. He didn’t choose to go-not that I’m judging anyone that does-but he fought to stay with his wife and two kids.

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He was 45 years old. I turn 45 in September. I have to sit quietly and try to let that sink in.It’s sobering in its urgency. I’m not ready to go now, just as I wasn’t ready to let him go aged 14.

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Over the last 30 years I’ve tried to make sense of my Dad’s death, tried to find some meaning in my life. I’ve used death as a reason to be hedonistic, irresponsible and non-committal. I’ve given therapists a lot to listen to.

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Yet, I’ve also felt that if I’m here I’m going to get engaged, care about stuff, connect with people, argue my point, love, do my best, crack on with this one life.

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I accept that grief and loss are a part of life, certainly my life. Just as I accept my Dad didn’t meet his grandchildren or got old with my Mum. But it’s still sad and it still sometimes makes me angry. And that’s completely ok.

 

Death Cafe Bradford

A blog by –  Joanne Mullarkey, Ethical Tissue Research Nurse, University of Bradford

When you hear the words ‘Death Café’, what do you think of…?

A quaint Yorkshire teashop full of Zombies?

A serial killer’s new business venture?

In not quite such a dramatic form, the concept of a dedicated relaxed space to talk about the important matter of your demise comes for the first time to Bradford University!

Coffee, Cupcakes and CPR. What more could you want!

 

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Death isn’t normally something people talk about easily, comfortably or willingly, but we want to change that. Fundamentally, dying does matter, it’s your final party, your last hurrah and this signifies how you want to be remembered…

It’s important to think and plan just like you would your 21st birthday or 60th wedding anniversary. Surprise birthday parties can be fun…. But ‘surprise funerals’ don’t tend to have the same impact.

Now for some hard truths….

We are all going to die.

Everyone you can see right now will die.

That includes you.

And your loved ones.

No-one is immune. So what is wrong with planning for the inevitable?? A little bit of thought now may save a lot of time and anguish later.

So what are we doing is to give you the opportunity to talk….

This is where the tea, coffee and lots of yummy homemade cake come in!

 

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There will be 4 Death Café’s during Dying Matters Awareness week. The only day when there will not be one is Wednesday, when the conference will be taking place.

Every day there will be activities and stalls which have been created to initiate conversations or trigger you to think about certain aspects of the dying process. There are activities for you to join in, view, photograph, Snapchat and Tweet about! These include Seed Bombs, a ‘Before I die….’ Wall, designing your own tombstone (and Epitaph!) and creating the perfect funeral song playlist!

Each cafe will have a loosely based theme which will be represented by stalls which will change daily.

We kick off the week on Monday 18th May with experts from the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Support Service (SANDS). This day will also focus around death and loss as a young person, suicide (of all ages), miscarriage and abortion. You are free to talk to anyone volunteers and staff about any of these topics and information and support numbers will be made available.

Tuesday 19th May’s Cafe is centred on Tissue and Organ Donation for Therapeutic purposes and Medical Research. We have visitors from The NHS Blood and Transplant Team, the Lead Tissue Donation Practitioner for the North East and Ethical Tissue, The Human Tissue Bank which is based at the University of Bradford will also be there. We will be giving people information on what choices you have after death and how important it is to make them beforehand!

The Chaplain and his team from Bradford Royal Infirmary will be attending on Thursday 21st May to help with any questions and conversations around death and spirituality. There are many people around to chat to about all sides or religion and humanity and this can often help people a lot to talk to someone about any struggles they’ve had in the past with this topic. Also on this day, members of the iGene Digital Autopsy Facility in Bradford will be giving information on their sophisticated, 3D visualisation software and a scanner which is used to establish cause of death.

Friday 22nd of May is all about the legal aspects of Death and Dying. Morrish Solicitors who specialise in this type of law will be in attendance to offer support and advice for free about any issues concerning wills, inheritance, power of attorney, Living Wills etc. This will provide people with a reliable and accessible source of information.

This café is the beginning of a series of events which will get people thinking about this issue…

I can honestly say that this is a rare chance to attend something that you KNOW has something to do with you!

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We look forward to seeing you there!

 

 

My Best Friend

by Dorcas Lambert @dorcaselambert, April 2015

I’ve tried to write this all week, but found it difficult to find the words. And I had to write it because you’re the only person I could, or would, tell. I’m not very good at talking about me – to most people anyway – but to you I could. Though I mostly didn’t have to, because you’d just know. Whatever happened, whatever was said, I never had to explain myself because you always just understood. I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve – if I’m sad or scared or annoyed or angry, I don’t usually tell people about how I feel. But you already knew. I was going to say that the one thing you didn’t know was what an enormous part of my life you were – but you did know. Of course you did.

We worked together, our kids went to the same school – same class even for a while, and we lived within staggering distance of each other’s houses. Not forgetting that you were my honorary bridesmaid and honorary godmother to my daughter – we never let small things like me not having any bridesmaids and Emma not being Christened get in the way of those. She’ll always be “your iccle Emma”. She loved you too.

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 Not that we were joined at the hip, we didn’t always see each other as much as we wanted to. But you…we…were just always there. I could be silly with you, get on my soapbox with you (though you were usually on it first), have a rant with you – we did love a good rant. We did serious too…sometimes…

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It’s just so bloody hard to lose your best friend. It feels like “bereavement” is something that’s reserved for direct relatives, if you know what I mean. Blood is thicker than water and all that. I feel like I’m having to make people understand that “best friend” is just as painful, if not more sometimes. It almost feels like I’m not worthy of this amount of grief, because we were “just, only friends”. No matter that you were more like my extended family than my actual extended family.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done the whole bereavement thing. You’d think it’d get easier. But my previous experiences of this horrible sadness that comes with grief have never been accompanied with this sickening feeling of loneliness and isolation that I’ve got now. And that’s because at those times before – I always had you…and now I don’t.

Northern Lights (Golden Compass) (Phillip Pullman, 1995) probably wasn’t your cup of tea, but if you read it (I know you didn’t) – cutting children from their dæmon. That’s how it feels. Like someone’s taken a great big knife and sliced a massive piece of my life off.

When I stay up till silly o’clock in the morning, there’s no Facebook messenger conversations anymore, because you were the only other person in the world to be daft enough to still be up. I miss those conversations terribly. I still wait for your comments on my Facebook statuses. No more calling in for coffee when I drive past your house, and I drive past it a lot. You were the first person I thought of to tell all my things to – even the silliest, most trivial things – because I couldn’t help but smile knowing what your reaction would be – good or bad. There’s no-one to tell those things to now. I told you more than I tell my husband. When I graduate, I’ll be sad because you’re not there getting all soppy and pathetic….for all of a minute before we start throwing sarcastic insults at each other. When I finally move house, I’ll have to get excited about obsessive colour co-ordination and accessories and soft furnishings all on my own…

…but that’s me being selfish. That’s me being sad for me. Which doesn’t compare with how sad I am for you. It seems so cruel that someone who loved life as much as you should die so soon. I’ve cried so much for you, for the future you wanted but couldn’t have. I think of how tired you were, and how much it hurt you to live with the knowledge you were having to leave your children before you’d finished helping them grow up. I know how much pain it caused you – I felt it. And I honestly don’t think you’d have made it as long as you did if it weren’t for your love for them. You had so much love for all your family and they did for you too. In a way that made even harder to bear. I can’t begin to imagine what they’re going through right now.

Now I hug my children that little bit tighter because you remind me just how lucky we are to be together. In fact you’ve taught me a lot. From now on, when I moan that life’s too hard – I’ll think of you and be grateful for everything I have. When I think I’m struggling, I’ll think of you and I’ll know that it’s nothing compared to what you did – and you did it all with a smile. I’m so very proud of you.

Also from now on, I will put extra tinsel on my Christmas tree and I will always chop carrots into round, circular slices. Because I know how much you hated those things. Hehehe. (I can hear you giggling at the very notion of me actually preparing fresh vegetables.) Every Christmas Eve (work permitting) I will still go shopping at 6am in a silly hat and then go forcoffee at McDonalds after and I’ll drink a toast to you…

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I could write more, I could write forever, about you and how wonderful I think you were/are/whatever. But you already knew that, right?

If I could send you a Facebook message right now, I’d say:

Need to clean this bloody house – I seem to keep getting dust in my eyes or something. Cos I’m absolutely, definitely NOT crying.

Love you Lady D Xxx

And you’d say:

Love you too Dotty Xxx

Thank fook for facebook cos I’d never be able to tell you to your face :’) <3<3<3

And I’d say:

I know :’)