Sue Brayne, one of the Kicking the Bucket team, writes:
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by the fact we are all going to die. This deepened whilst I was training as a nurse at the Middlesex hospital in the early seventies. I laid out my first body (nurses did in those days) when I was nineteen. The patient was only thirty.
As students we never spoke about what happened (death and dying wasn’t addressed in any teaching programme), but caring for this patient and others who died during my training made me ask myself all kinds of questions about death: What does it feel like to die? How long does it take to die? Will I know I am dying when my time comes?
I spent many years delving into these profound questions, which eventually led to an MA in 2001, in the Rhetoric and Rituals of Death from King Alfred’s, Winchester. Shortly after completing my MA I had the good fortune to meet Dr Peter Fenwick (Neuropsychiatrist and Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatry) and helped him to set up a five-year retrospective study into end-of-life experiences.
Our aim was to discover what the dying experienced in their last months, weeks, days,even hours and moments of life. It resulted in six published papers, which have helped end of life carers to understand the importance of listening to the spiritual needs of their dying patients.
My father also died while I was involved with the study. His final days in hospital make me realise how little practical information was available for relatives, friends, and carers of the dying. So Peter and I decided to write our booklet, Nearing the end of life: a guide for relatives, friends and carers (now available on kindle).
Due to generous sponsorship from the Aim Foundation we have distributed over 50,000 of these brochures free to hospices, hospitals, care homes, GP surgeries, and relatives in need of help and support. It is now used in many palliative care training programmes and included in end-of-life care resource packages. I am particularly delighted that Dying Matters (set up by the National Council of Palliative care in 2009) has incorporated it into their website as a major contribution to their own end of life resource.
The booklet will be available during the festival as well.
This brings me to how I bumped into Liz Rothschild six years ago. A mutual friend thought it would be a good idea to for us to meet, and it most certainly was. Within minutes we were deep in conversation about death and dying, and how we both wanted to help people to talk about it in a more open and honest way.
Liz told me about the Kicking the Bucket Festival, and I immediately signed up to help. This is the third one I have now been involved with, and each festival just gets better and better. This year is going to be an amazing event, full of enthusiastic contributors hosting a wide range of topics, discussions, and conversations, and providing partners for the KTB alternative speed-dating event on Saturday morning, 5th November. Hats off to Liz for thinking that one up!
The speed dating involves festival-goers being paired up with an end of life expert, so they can ask anything they want about a specific area of death and dying before moving onto the another expert. As the end of life experience ‘partner’, I am very much looking forward to this.
I am also looking forward to running Just Passing Through, a two-hour workshop on Sunday afternoon, November 6th, which will focus on what really matters as we enter our ageing process and embrace our mortality.
And, I am particularly delighted to be part of the facilitation team of the death café at Oxford’s Café Rouge on Sunday morning, 6th November. Liz encouraged me to start running death cafes last year when I moved onto my narrrowboat, Mystic Moon. I decided I wanted to literally pop-up along the towpath to offer death cafes on board.
Liz came to the first pop-up on Bradford on Avon wharf in April last year to show me the way before I set off for five months to run twelve more including locations in Devizes, Pewsey, London, Leamington Spa, and Gloucester. Again, I have to thank Ian Marks from the Aim Foundation for generously providing sponsorship to make these happen.
The festival seems a fair way off at the moment. But time will fly, and before we know it Oxford will be buzzing with what going on at Kicking the Bucket. I can’t wait.