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Shining Light on Death, A Study Day, Leicester 21st September 2019

Shining Light on Death, A Study Day, Leicester 21st September 2019

We need to be curious about dying. This was the message delivered by the eminent neuropsychiatrist  Dr Peter Fenwick to some 160 informed delegates at the Shining Light on Death conference held at Harmony House, Leicester, by the Janki Foundation for Spirituality in Healthcare and the Brahma Kumaris (BK), on Friday 21st September 2019. His audience agreed fully with these sentiments and went on to contribute to the event, either by way of pertinent questioning or by participating in the workshops that followed the delightful lunch provided by the BK volunteers.


Reverend Andrew Martin, an ordained Roman Catholic and lead Chaplain to the LOROS Hospice in Leicester spoke next and shared some heart-rendering accounts of his experiences as an NHS care worker.




Dr Sarah Eagger, ably assisted by Ann Richardson, chaired the event, and interludes were provided by Cherry Steinberg playing her flute, Elaine Brooks reciting her own poetry, and a rap by Lacky C.  Sister Maureen Goodman wrapped up the proceedings by discussing spirituality and death followed by a short meditation. Bhavna Patani and Suja Chandran, for whom we should all thank for organising the event, paid tribute to the hard-working events team from both charities.

It was said that the Buddha had 40 meditation subjects, one of which was death, and that he used whichever was pertinent to the needs of the meditator. To care for someone who is dying is a great privilege, something that was echoed by many of the speakers. Dr Fenwick’s presentation was very skilful and he shared many fascinating anecdotes from a lifetime of clinical experience, both from the research he’s been involved in and his own personal reflections on the process of dying.  Maybe the best way to deal with illness is to prevent it, but genetics can interfere with this logic. We cannot prevent death, although we are learning more and more about prolonging life. Both of these areas of research involve not only progress in medical science but also ethical considerations.

So what can we do? Perhaps we could follow Peter’s lead to be curious, and do not be afraid to discuss the subject with loved ones. We all have different ways of coping with death but at least Peter had a more rapturous reception on discussing this in Leicester compared to the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who published her radical and hugely influential book On Death and Dying in 1969. Peter stressed the importance of the last of Kübler-Ross’s five stages of dying—acceptance. He also quoted the Dalai Lama, who talked about not being attached to anything – no idea, no dogma, not even life itself.  If you have no attachment to your life then you won’t mind losing it. As for myself, I am more than just curious–I am really looking forward to it as, when I die, I will be curious no longer as then I will have the actual proof of what happens!

Peter Stanley

Leaflet of the event:  Please click here 


Books & Papers recommended by Dr Peter Fenwick:

‘Dying : A Transition (End of Life Care: A Series) by Monica Renz’

‘Nearing the end of life: A Guide for Relatives and Friends of the Dying’ by  Sue Brayne and Dr Peter Fenwick


Fenwick P, Brayne S. End-of-life experiences: reaching out for compassion, communication, and connection: meaning of deathbed visions and coincidences. Am J Hosp Hosp Palliat Care. 2011;28(1):7-15.

Renz M, Reichmuth O, Bueche D, Traichel B, Schuett Mao M, Cerny T, Strasser F. Fear, Pain, Denial, and Spiritual Experiences in Dying Processes. Am J Hosp Hosp Palliat Care. 2018;35(3): 478-491.


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