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.
Leaflet of the event: Please click here
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!
C – Peter Stanley
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.
Excerpts of feedback from participants:
“Thank you so much for such an enlightening 'Shining Light on Death Programme'. l was so pleased with the whole presentation from the beginning till the end: The evidence-based presentation by Dr Peter Fenwick on 'what happens when you die' and that of Rev Andrew Martin on 'what the dying want matters' was the most informative in dispelling my ignorance and lack of confidence on how to handle such a sensitive subject like death. I have encountered death of close relatives and as a mental health nurse; have nursed terminally ill patients and supported their relatives for many years. This programme has helped me immensely on both personal and professional level. I was so impressed with this programme that I wish this could be introduced without delay as a Clinical workshop training for the National Health Service staff.
…..for me, the programme has taken away a lot of my anxieties and fears around death and given me hope that I can handle my own death one day and support others in a more positive light.”
Priya Ramdoo, Mental Health Nurse, Leicester Partnership Trust, Leicester
“What a wonderful enlightening day. I was so uplifted by the speakers and my view of dying is very different now. I feel now that I can face dying more prepared, less scared and with a sense of peace. I am now comfortable talking about dying with people.”
Vanessa, Social Worker, Sheffield
“It was a heart-touching program and I feel it is a wonderful study especially for the older generations who feel insecure fearing death. Such sessions should be on a continuous basis. As a part of my job and my nature I come across many souls fearing death and who need moral support at the end of their journey. Lectures of Dr Peter Fenwick, Rev Andrew Martin and Maureen Goodman made me strong to face such situations. I liked the statement of Maureen Goodman that ‘God’s love will heal the soul and we have to be inside out like a boat’.
Vijaya Lakshmi P
“My husband and I attended the above seminar and are really grateful to both the Janki Foundation & the Brahma Kumaris. It was really well organised and we appreciated the lovely meal. Most importantly all the speakers were excellent and to receive so much knowledge on a closed subject was amazing. We were a bit apprehensive initially as we did not know how death would be discussed but thoroughly enjoyed the day, the discussions were sensible and the environment very peaceful. Thank you.”
Versha Pattani, Retired
“I found the "Shining Light on Death" Day very memorable. Peter Fenwick's talk was particularly riveting. The other speakers were also most interesting and to have a chance to gather later in groups and talk about the various insights we may have received from the talks was valuable. Thank you to all of those who worked so hard to make the day a success. The kitchen staff for the day produced some delicious food at lunchtime and was managed magnificently - so efficient!The atmosphere in the wonderful building was almost tangible.....one of embracing quiet calm and Love.”
Susan Allen, Retired
“A thoroughly enjoyable, informative and thought-provoking day. The setting was excellent, variety of topics interesting, poems and rapping added flavour and the food was delicious and nicely served. Thank you all for such a wonderful day and I look forward to attending more such inspiring days.
Janaki Devi dasi, ISKCON
“Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to develop my knowledge - this will not only help me and my family but I look forward to sharing my learning with other members of our staff.
Hina Ghaghda, Bluebird Care, Care Leicester
“I feel we are now starting to openly discuss spiritual matters in the NHS. I feel the change more and more. Our patients can only benefit from this!”
Anne Richardson, Senior Sister, Intermediate Team, Northamptonshire