Not Gardening – In early March someone appealed to my lazy soul and told me that merely by doing nothing, by letting my small lawn “just grow”, I could help wildlife and the planet. As weeks and then months passed the ragwort, thistle, dandelion, daisies, dock and clover took chaotic advantage of neglect. The “lawn” became a place of peace to step into, away from the laptop and the work on palliative care. The “lawn” was somehow reassuring in its flourishing: oblivious to cares and awful happenings.
Today the grass fronds which waved above knee-height in July are brittle and broken, bowed by the pounding of the evening darkness which is falling harder and earlier each night. Today feels like a day to pause and reflect: here are four things which I learned or was reminded about during the past seven months. They are perhaps pointers for the future.
Centre Stage – It is almost inevitable that during a pandemic there is an emphasis on death as something which can and must be prevented at all costs. But this narrative is one which overly dominates in normal times. The experiences of living with serious illness, dying and grieving can each by improved or worsened by institutions. These are near-universal experiences yet they remain marginal issues in policy discourses which decide priorities and resource allocation. It sometimes seems as if it is too much of a struggle to hold the concepts of inevitability and amelioration in view simultaneously. More to do.
Preparedness – As a society we remain ill equipped to prepare for serious illness, dying and loss. There is low awareness of what end of life may be like. The decisions and issues which often arise are hidden behind institutional walls and are not widely understood. There is little appreciation of how early discussion and planning, whilst not a panacea, can help. Institutional prompts to action are haphazard. Even those people who “get it” are often deflected by the practical and financial barriers to taking action. More to do.
Unshackled – There is no glee like the glee of trampling upon unhelpful and purposeless rules, the binning of red tape. The cross-system collaboration, new relationships, productivity and pace of change in March and April was a light amongst the grimness. I saw people working relentlessly under intense pressure but united in a clear sense of purposeful compassion, energised by possibilities. There were moments when there was a scent of revolution. More of that.
Marathon – In March some people said “remember it’s a marathon not a sprint” but it turned out this is a whole new event: a race much longer than a marathon, but where the early miles had to be sprinted at a brutal pace – there was no choice. People performed lifetime bests in those early laps, and now many are suffering, yearning to hear the final lap bell, but with no idea when it will sound as the black months approach. Be kind.
Chief Executive, Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care (SPPC)
21 September 2020