Teaching: Care of the Dying
How we care for the dying people in our midst, and how we die when it is our turn: these together are the proving ground, the cradle and the grave both, for every conviction we have about justice and mercy, about the meaning of life, about what love should look like and what it should do. They are the sum of every political instinct we have, every dream of community we’ve nursed along and every faith we’ve been willing to have in a better day. They are where every fascination about the Other World and the Big Story live, and they are where the midnight fear of Nothing comes to call. They are where our immense technical medical wizardry and mastery is visited upon you and those you love, and where the mythic poverty of our time comes to show itself. They are surely where our love of life earns its keep, or shatters. Mostly, though, they are the place where our ability to be a people is forged, or fails. They are where our village is made or broken. They are where we are most ourselves, and most alone. Together they are The Big Tent of our time.
Wherever there is that much at stake there is at least that much to learn. So it is a necessary and proper thing that all of us learn about dying and about death, about all of the before and the after, well before the time of being tested and told comes. We can learn before our gamble for more time is foreclosed upon by the passing of time.
These workshop descriptions give you a feel for what a programme of learning the Big Things could be.
Homecoming: A master class in living and dying
The relentless pursuit of self reliance and self improvement is rooted in our lost connection to common stories, homeland and ancestors that bind and unite us. The times now demand that we recognize the world’s suffering in our own.
This workshop teaches the skills of grief, broken heartedness and spiritual activism, all harnessed to the long overdue project of building a world-feeding inner life whose joy is rooted in knowing well its end.
How It All Could Be: The Study Group
This is a day for deep reflection on living and dying, for the practice of grief and the love of being alive, for learning a language that is faithful to dying and to caring for a loved unto their death and beyond. It is based on Stephen Jenkinson’s How It All Could Be: A workbook for dying people and for those who love them. Registration for this workshop includes a signed copy of the book.
Grief, Walking: The soul of a well lived life
Though now addicted to security, comfort and managing uncertainty, our culture could learn to honour, teach and live grief as a skill, as vital to our personal, community and spiritual life as the skill of loving. How we die and how we care for those who are dying among us either makes communities or breaks them.
This workshop teaches the dying time as a place to learn our humanity, and to learn the noble, courageous skills of village making for those we will not live to see.
The Tangled Garden of Wisdom and Grief
A good death is everyone’s right, but the idea makes no sense in a culture that doesn’t believe in dying at all: this is the dilemma for palliative patients and their families, and for those working in a health care system where dying is the end, not the fulfillment, of health.
The time is upon us, after several decades of pain and symptom management, to imagine anew what dying asks of us all, and what a dying person deserves from us. This workshop is a deep meditation on how dying can be learned, and on what the care of dying people should have at its root.
Making Meaning of the End of Life: A workshop in knowing dying well
The meaning of the end of your life isn’t hiding somewhere waiting for you to find it. You make the meaning of your life’s end by what you are willing to learn and see and know as the dying comes on, all of which needs huge courage when your teacher about dying is a death phobic culture. In truth, dying asks us to learn what only dying can teach: that is the beginning of what dying can mean in our time.
This master class will use your personal and professional experience of dying as a template for the trustworthy project of forging purpose, story and justice from the end of a life.
Dying Centered Care: What dying people need from their caregivers
Little of the professional and volunteer care given to dying people is learned at the death bed: it is brought there from generic medical and psychological training. What dying people learned from their culture before they were dying people was the countless ways of not dying. It shouldn’t be surprising that good death is rare among us.
This workshop advocates making dying the proper teacher and the centre – not the adversary – of good palliative care.
Dying Free of Hope: The unexamined heart of end of life care
Palliative care workers are taught to support dying people’s hopefulness and their right ‘not to know’ what is coming. In the end they rely on an avalanche of symptoms to get patients to the point of having ‘realistic hope’. Very little good comes from the subsequent feelings of having been betrayed, ill served, and having run out of time.
This workshop will ponder the consequences of our heavy reliance on ‘quality of life’ in palliative care, and it will challenge the maintenance of hope to earn its keep as a deliverer of good dying. Instead of oscillating between ‘hopeless’ and ‘hopeful’, it will teach the real possibility of a hope free dying.
Good Dying: Is there such a thing? Whose job is it?
With an aging population, more of health care is becoming palliative care by default. We could all agree that good dying, including good pain and symptom management, is everyone’s right. But whose responsibility is it to imagine and design and deliver on that right? What should be the role of the community, and patients and families in particular, in defining and pursuing and advocating for good dying for themselves and their loved ones?
This workshop gives guidance on how communities must become skilled partners in the provision of good palliative care.
Suffering: Ours or theirs?
When palliative care providers are being trained they learn that their own experiences, particularly their experiences with suffering, if unmediated by ‘resolution’ can disqualify them from doing good work with dying people and their families. This is what is usually meant by ‘baggage’. Objectivity and compassionate neutrality are prescribed by most teachers and mentors.
This workshop teaches that your own suffering when it is ‘well suffered’ is a faithful way of forging your kinship with dying people. It is the one thing they require of you but will never request. It is the antidote to burnout.
Will You Still Be My Parents After I Die? Caring for a dying child
No one gets into the parenting business to bury their child, but it happens much more in our culture than anyone is ready to know. While the caregiver’s job is to help the child die well, the parent’s self appointed task is to be sure the child doesn’t die at all. There is often a legacy of hurt and regret on all sides flowing from that collision. And dying children are often defended from knowing about their dying by people who without knowing how want the best for them.
This workshop will give practical guidance in reimagining a child’s dying as the deep, unbidden fulfillment – and not the annihilation – of a parent’s purpose and job. It will also teach what dying children deserve from the adults around them.
No One Gets Out of Here Alive: Young people and death
In traditional cultures and times young people were initiated into their humanness through deliberate ceremonial instruction in the necessity, justice, purpose and merit of their own death – a prerequisite for living deeply and well – by highly skilled elders who knew death well. In our time, rife as it is with death phobia and grief illiteracy, kids are utterly on their own where death is concerned. They come to it by dare, by drug, by an unformed fascination that disarms or terrifies parents and teachers. This radical and private curiosity about death should be an occasion for deep teaching about life instead of psychiatric referrals. It requires grief teachers, a birthright of all young people, not grief counsellors.
This workshop gives guidance on wondering about death. It delivers a powerful mix of provocation, affirmation and obligation in a rambunctious, thoughtful meditation on this, the great mystery of human life. Using scenes from Griefwalker, the feature NFB documentary film about my work and ideas, the workshop frames grief as a skill and fascination with death as vital in coming to a deep love of being alive.
This programme is suitable to high school age students, and can be formatted for inclusion in sociology, health, psychology or current events curriculae.
The Hard Business of Dying Well
Though this question is not often asked in palliative care circles, it should be: What do dying people and their families deserve from us? What do they deserve from each other? It is more than possible that what dying people deserve from us is different from, even antagonistic to, what they want or ask for or believe in?
This workshop will teach the sometimes volatile and hugely necessary skills of building a shared understanding of dying well, skills that both caregiver and patient have a moral, ethical and social obligation to learn while they still have time to act on them.
The Perils of the Customer Satisfaction Business
Palliative care workers back themselves into a tight corner when they become customer satisfaction specialists for a culture that doesn’t believe in dying. As a bold step these workers might imagine themselves selling good dying to people who are refusing to die at all.
This workshop teaches how to stop forcing people to choose between living and dying, how to know dying as health’s rightful twin, how to begin advocating for ‘quality of death’.