I was invited to talk at the Guys and St Thomas’ Chaplaincy Study day on the subject of assisted dying. I’ll happily admit that I was trepidations about speaking to a room full of Rabbi’s, Vicars, Monks and Imam’s on a subject which faith leaders (but not all faith leaders, nor the majority of people with faith) are traditionally not in favour of. As expected many weren’t supportive of assisted dying, but some were, and almost everyone was respectful of the idea and contributed to a thoughtful debate. However, it was the first session of the day that had the greatest impact on me.
First thing in the morning, faced with a room full of people who had been denied their morning tea or coffee on account of the urn being unavailable, Rabbi Markus Lange set out a table full of various postcards depicting a range of scenes including; landscapes, balloons and individual words including ‘hope’ and ‘terror’. He asked us to select a postcard which most reflected how we would like our own death to be. This suggestion took me aback a little. I spend a great deal of time thinking about other people having more choice and control at the end of life, but very rarely do I give thought to my own.
I selected a postcard depicting a person standing on a beach looking towards a still sea. We were then asked to return to our small groups and say the three things, reflected in our postcard, which we would like in our own death. Peoples words were varied and included; love, hope, beauty and meditation. My words were; presence, peace and dignity.
“I am grateful to Rabbi Lange for reminding me of my own mortality…”
My reaction to the question about choosing a postcard to reflect my own death gave me a new insight into the barriers that both Compassion in Dying and Dignity in Dying face. I thought I was one of the most open minded people I knew of, in my willingness to talk about death and dying, yet I struggled to get my head around what I wanted my death to look like. I was encouraged, however, that even when I had just a few moments to consider it, my first thought was that I wanted to be there when it happened, controlling the process.
I am grateful to Rabbi Lange for reminding me of my own mortality, and that if I haven’t thought about what I would like my death to look like, my loved ones and healthcare professionals will certainly struggle to support me to have the death I would choose.