I realised when I was quite young that although ours appeared from the outside to be a normal family, we were caught in a web of the kind of behavior, which, in those days certainly, was not the sort of thing you talked about. Subjects which still, today, cause distress. Being the kind of person I am, I became the family carer. At the age of 12 I joined the junior Red Cross, my first taste of learning skills that would enable me to cope with everything life was to throw at me.
At 17 I set off for East Africa, to spend a year as a volunteer in a missionary school for physically handicapped children. During this period I also hitch-hiked 9,000 miles, alone, around Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It was a relief to escape the turbulence of life at home. I had grown up with secrets and lies invented to hide uncomfortable truths. My brother, who was older than me, had committed suicide at the age of 22, just 9 days before I left for Africa. I wondered whether he had perhaps realised that no matter what we are told by others, the soul always knows the truth. There I was, thousands of miles away, and standing at the threshold of my own life, dealing with what then seemed like my insurmountable grief.
Perhaps it was not by chance then, that Africa, a continent that has always suffered so much death and devastation, should become the stepping-stone to my adult life, throughout which I have questioned death, as well as life.
The next turning point came when I was working as a terminal care nurse at< the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital in London. I was seeing people dying on a daily basis. Despite of the morose attitude of others, I felt privileged to be caring for these patients at this point in their lives. I also realised that those who had touched on the ‘otherness’ of life - perhaps through philosophy, spirituality, or religion, were preparing to die in a more peaceful and dignified way.
It became obvious to me that the way we live is the way we die.
I recall one young woman, dying from lung cancer, who accepted some of the more severe aspects of her treatment with great serenity, always thanking the staff no matter how uncomfortable or painful the situation. She was one in whom I recognised a conscious dying, having embraced all of life
into her few young years. I have no doubt that she concluded it in a state of grace. Her death was an inspiration to those around her.
At the age of 25, it was this that started me on the first of many trips
to India to see my spiritual teacher, Osho, whose teachings on death and
life feel true to my heart.
is not the enemy.
It appears so because we cling too much to life.
The fear of death arises out of the clinging.
And because of this clinging we are unable to know what death is.
Not only that, we are unable to know what life is too”
Over the next two decades I immersed myself in a busy family life, raising a wonderful daughter, now28 years old. I joined my husband in his successful business of making models and miniatures, exhibiting and teaching every year in England and the USA. I trained in India as a holistic massage therapist and although I do not practice this as a living, it has become my regular ‘getting back into my body’ meditation.
have made regular visits to see Osho, whose talks on dying and death
are truly inspiring and touch a special place inside me. It was in India
that I became particularly involved in workshops to do with meditation
Then fours years ago my father-in-law died and I arranged a truly beautiful funeral for him. It was not something I had done before, yet knew I wanted something more personal than that for my father 17 years earlier, which was organized by the funereal directors.
Three months after this I woke up with a knowing about this work! I didn’t have to think about it…it was all there…who was to staff it, where it would take place, what it was about!!!! Although I was inspired I was also freaked out as the words came with it too…”Transforming cultural taboos around death in England”. It seemed like such a big thing to take on! Plus, I was about to set off again to India, this time for 6 weeks! Knowing that we teach what we have to learn I decided to take all my ‘death’ books with me and find out what was going on inside me that was bringing this up. Once there I meditated and relaxed, and participated in a Sufi Death workshop, which I found very beautiful. By the time I came home I knew I simply had to go ahead and do it…so I spent the next 3 months doing nothing much apart from having a wonderful time creating the workshop.
It has now been successfully running for over 3 years.
I am currently putting together a book, “Tips from the Dying to the Living”, a collection of reflections and poems from people who know they have only so long to live. It is due out in 2017.
My years as a nurse accompanying the dying, and now running this workshop, have brought me to my own sense of aliveness. An aliveness more intense than ever. It is this I owe to those whom, in their humility, have revealed themselves as masters