Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Are you listening?

By Kate Hambleton

As a nurse who is relatively new to working in the specialist area of palliative care, the biggest question I have had is:  What should I say to someone who’s dying?  There are so many possible approaches and answers to this question.  Yet, what comes to my mind right now is the question:  Are you listening?

It has been observed that people who are dying often make statements and gestures that seem illogical and can be thought of as confused or “out of it” by their family or by healthcare professionals.  What they say and their behavior can be put down to a side effect of the medication(s) they are on, their age or the illness they have. 

These things certainly have an impact.  However, the actual experience of the individual can be overlooked as it can be difficult to understand what the person actually means, especially if they are referring to things that cannot be seen by the people with them or if they are using symbolic or metaphorical language. 

Nearing Death Awareness is a term coined by hospice nurses Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley in their book “Final Gifts” to describe what is happening when these phenomena occur.  Examples of these end of life experiences include people saying when they are going to die and then dying at that time, talking about impending travel or wanting to go home, experiencing visions of people and/ or places, needing to do or have something particular and vivid and poignant dreams.  

It is thought that these are ways in which the person is conveying what it is they are experiencing and what it is that they need.  Although not everything that a dying person says will have significance, without listening it is easy to miss something important.  In practice, this can require patience, paying attention to what is happening and listening with a heart –centered willingness to try and understand the whole of the person and their experience.  The fruit of this work is to receive the gift of insight into another person's world and the privilege of being present with them.  This is a moving and rewarding experience.

Now, my questions are: what do people believe about death and dying?  How does that impact how they cope with death?  I will host a Death café with Anja Saunders at the Wild Food Café in London’s Covent Garden at 7pm on Monday (22nd October) where I hope to hear what questions, feelings and stories others have about death and dying.

 Death Cafe

An evening to connect with death in an informal atmosphere
Death cafe offers a supportive group environment
to explore feelings and ideas around
death and dying.

Two separate evenings are planned
Monday the 22nd of October
Monday the 26th of November
 7 pm till 9 pm
In the Wild Food Cafe, 14 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9DP
the evening is hosted by
Kate Hambleton, nurse in a London hospice and Anja Saunders, Interfaith minister and group facilitator
There is no cost for the evening itself and the Wild Food Cafe will be opening especially for us so we can enjoy their wonderful drinks and snacks. Have a look at to see what a special place this is.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Kate for this. I'd be keen to come to your Death Cafes as I am very interested in this subject. I'm in Bristol so a bit far to come. You might like to have a look at The Sammasati Project - I am currently participating in their training - how to use meditation and simple relating skills to support those who are seriously ill or dying. Happy to connect if you'd like to. Best wishes, Sidika


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