Death is not a dirty word

This week I was saddened to read that Stephen Sutton had passed away. He was a young man who appreciated and made the most of the precious gift of life that was taken from him way too soon. He was inspirational not just because of the phenomenal amount of money that he managed to raise for the Teenage Cancer Trust, but because he did not fear death nor allow his illness to become the focus of his final years. Instead he embraced the life that he had left, an attitude that we could all learn from. None of us know how long our lives will be.

Health is big business. Books and newspapers sell when they carry stories about the latest discovery of a wonder food or exercise fad that promises to help proponents live longer. Why this focus on longevity? It is always desperately sad when a young person dies, but what is so appealing about living to be 120 years old when, with a few exceptions, the human body appears to start it’s terminal decline before we are 80, however healthy our lifestyle has been? As far as I am concerned, quality of life trumps quantity.

I will put my cards on the table here and admit that I am in favour of voluntary euthanasia. I have no wish to spend my final years in a nursing home no matter how well run such an establishment may be. If I ever start to lose my marbles then I hope that there will be a humane way out.

I do not understand why some people fear death. Those who believe there is a hereafter generally expect it to be an improvement on the here and now, unless they have lived really wicked lives in which case they should be sorting that out pronto. Those who believe that this life is all there is expect nothingness when they die; why would that be a concern?

What I fear more than death is the bit that comes just before, hence my support of voluntary euthanasia. Voluntary is the key word here. None of this equates to others making judgements on who should live and who should die. There are plenty of people with serious physical or mental health issues who can find good and valid reasons for wanting to prolong their lives. For those who have made a concious and reasoned decision to go though, I would like there to be more options.

One of the problems with having this sort of discussion is that talk of wanting to die is equated with depression, which requires a different sort of treatment altogether. I am no expert in this area so do not feel that I can offer informed insight into how best to deal with these often misunderstood illnesses. I think that we could all benefit from a better understanding of mental health issues.

What I would like to see considered more openly and seriously is autonomy at life’s end, particularly for the elderly who are often patronised and whose wishes are swept aside or ignored. It would appear that death is no longer seen as natural but as something that we should be doing absolutely everything within our power to avoid. I do not wish to rush my demise and would like to think that I have many more years left on this earth, but I do not see prolonging my life as the ultimate goal.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” (Hunter S. Thompson)

I do realise that this attitude is a gamble that could end up being somewhat selfish. If my choices result in my early death then it is my family who will suffer. Those who are left behind can have their lives altered irrevocably by the loss of a loved one. Voluntary euthanasia though offers the option to discuss beforehand why it is desired. Understanding can go a long way towards facilitating acceptance and closure.

I know that there are many people who, for religious or other deep seated reasons, do not consider that we have any right to shorten a life, even our own. I would not wish to trample on their right to hold such beliefs and live accordingly, but object to having their choices foisted on me.

When I die, whenever that may be, I do not wish my loved ones to wail and gnash their teeth. I want them to look back at the years I had and realise that they were good, that I made the most of my time here. I may not have achieved anything great (although I think that my kids are pretty awesome) but I took hold of each day and I lived it.

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. [..] I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.” (John Green)

What I do not want is to have my last days coloured by boredom and suffering, by a long and expensive wait for the inevitable in conditions of indignity. If I do not go suddenly and unexpectedly then I would appreciate having the ability to choose the time of my own demise.

Can we talk about death without those who are still alive, who have perhaps suffered the loss of a loved one, getting upset? I enjoy my life and I want to continue doing so. I do not, however, wish it to be prolonged just because this is possible. I choose to live. When the time comes, I would also appreciate being allowed to choose to die.



Hens do not enjoy paddling

Mother Nature is asserting her power, reminding us that we are not in control. Last night’s storms brought down trees and an elderly gentleman lost his life attempting to deal with one just up the road from where I live. Homes and farmland are flooded, roads closed, transport networks disrupted. To the west we have the Somerset Levels Floods, to the east the swollen River Thames keeps rising. Trains can no longer run into Cornwall since a section of railway line was damaged by high tides.

The rush to blame others is gathering pace. The government, the previous government, economic cutbacks, irresponsible planners, short term environmental decisions limiting river maintenance, climate scientists, climate change deniers, people in general are all being blamed. Until the rain stops, and this is not forecast to happen in the short term, little can be done to prevent further hardship and heartache for those affected.

I live on a hill so have escaped the worst effects of the weather. On the soggy walks that I have taken over the past few weeks I have seen the flooded fields, swollen rivers and closed roads. Trees have come down in the woodland beside my house but, as yet, we have not suffered direct damage. My heart goes out to those who have not been so lucky.

To date, the greatest challenge that I have faced has been how to keep my hens healthy and happy. The ground is completely saturated so each heavy downpour temporarily floods their run. The shed where I keep their feed has become damp and waterlogged as the constant rain has warped the wood and permeated the gaps. Come spring it will have to be replaced.

For now though I do what I can. I have moved all my hens into the bigger run which offers a little more protection from the elements. The larger coop is raised off the ground so suffers less from water ingress and general damp. Having all the hens together helps to keep them warm overnight. I am grateful that our coops are plastic so, unlike our mouldy shed, have not been damaged by the incessant rain.

During the day there is little more that I can do. If the rain holds off then I can allow my girls to free range. They scratch around in the gravelled areas and dustbathe under bushes. The rest of the garden is a puddled mudbath, including about half of their run. I have put up perches to allow them to escape the ground but they must come down to feed and drink. I am grateful that hens do not suffer trench foot.

I am giving them lots of treats. Corn to help keep them warm, leafy greens from the kitchen to supplement their pellets as there are no plants for them to forage for in the desolate garden. Egg production is down but this is a small price to pay if I can keep them happy until the better weather arrives.

When I see the pictures of the Somerset farmers moving their livestock to higher ground, appealing for feed as theirs is underwater, I realise that I do not have problems. My hens will neither starve nor drown. They may not enjoy paddling but they do have some dry ground to rest on.

The news is full of politicians and so called experts eager to espouse the lessons to be learned. When we have got through this crisis I hope that they listen to those who know, those who have lived and worked the land and understand how to manage these conditions long term.

My fear is that too many will see the cries for action as an opportunity to gain funding for pet projects, as a chance to make a quick buck. My worry is that there will be too many seeing this as a financial opportunity rather than a wake up call that the way we are developing and managing the natural resources on which we rely leaves us unnecessarily vulnerable.

Those who are suffering need help, but this has happened before and will happen again. We need to look at how we can all live with nature, how we can mitigate the damage of these naturally occurring events.

1782126_3931158373463_1220728495_n (1)

Best laid plans

It has been a strange sort of week. With the mid term holiday finished and my family back to school and work I had decided that I was going to make sure that I did something enjoyable for me each day as well as getting on top of the mundane chores that I procrastinate about far too much. I was determined that I was going to make good use of my time.

There were a couple of things that I hadn’t factored into the equation though. The first was an obvious oversight on my part. Although my sons returned to school after the half term break, my daughter didn’t. She had a couple of exams to sit, but was otherwise free to study at home (or not as the case may be) until her exams finish in a couple of weeks time. Now, this isn’t really an issue as, of all the members of my family, she is the most willing and able to look after herself. If she is hungry she will fix herself a meal; if the doorbell rings she will deal sensibly with the caller; if she has to go out then she will remember to lock up the house before she leaves. I don’t need to stay in just because she happens to be at home.

The second occurrence was, however, more disruptive to my plans. At the end of the weekend my husband contracted a nasty stomach upset and was unable to return to work. He spent three days (and three nights) afflicted with cramps and unable to hold down any food. He was suffering, he felt very sorry for himself, and he seemed to expect me to be able to do something to help.

Now, I am not a very sympathetic person. Having spent my three pregnancies dealing with morning sickness, and having to cope with my other children through the last two of these, I know how miserable it can be to feel constantly ill. I also know what it is like to go without sleep as, having my three kids in three and a half years, I had five years of broken nights. I know how hard it is to function through serious sleep deprivation and nausea; I did understood that my husband was truly suffering. I also knew that there was nothing to be done but rest, drink plenty of fluids, and wait a few days for the problem to clear up which, thankfully, it is now doing. It was a stomach upset; it would sort itself out in time.

I used to get an upset stomach every time I went on holiday; I was obviously unable to cope with the change of diet. The most miserable place to suffer this affliction is in a tent. It is also more difficult to cope in a hot country. Now that we no longer go abroad I no longer seem to pick up the bugs, but my husband is not so lucky. We have had to cut short a couple of trips away due to his susceptibility to this type of illness. I was quite relieved that he picked up this latest ailment in the comfort of our own home.

I tried to be a good little wife, ensuring that he had fresh water to sip on and leaving glasses of coke to go flat as an alternative drink that would help keep his salt and sugar levels up. Other than that, there was little I could do other than keep the house quiet to allow him to rest as best he could. I have to say that my main concern was that he had a bug that could be passed on to the children. With GCSE’s and music exams still to sit I did not want my older two to catch anything nasty. This attitude did not impress my patient.

It seemed unnecessary to stay in all the time, especially as I felt that telling him he just had to cope until he got better was not helping. Thus, I did visit the gym a couple of times and went out on one of my long walks. Generally though, I have tried to stick around in case I was needed. I think we are all relieved that he is now getting better.

Good health and pain free living is a blessing that we take for granted far too often. Even a minor illness brings home to us just how miserable life can be, how difficult it can be to find enjoyment in anything, when we are suffering. Perhaps I need to work on showing more empathy; on being gentle and kind rather than realistic and honest. I need to remember that, just because I choose to try to be stoic myself, I do not have the right to demand such behaviour of others.

The Triangle of Suffering