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From The Cradle to The Grave

Given my relatively newish (cough) entry into the fifty decade tick box, I’ve an increased interest in my health and a focus on end of life preparation. To me this means living life well, behaving well, and being informed and prepared so that I can die well.

I also have concerns about what we are told, or not told, by most health professionals in relation to living and dying well. Primarily the promotion and prescription of medications that are said to fix or prolong our health without substantial knowledge of adverse side effects or any contribution to the enhancement of our quality of life.  Conversations between health professionals and their clients could reveal much, if only those professionals were more aware of their importance and allocated time to for such conversations. All of these concerns I am raising connect to quality of life: how I live it, how my fellow humans live it and what can be done to improve our circumstances.

Rereading Christiane Northrup’s book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, a bible for those of us who know it, I was charged to read: “The experience of ageing as we know it is largely determined by beliefs that need updating.  Though many people do decline with age in this culture, this decline is not a natural consequence of ageing – it is a consequence of our collective beliefs about ageing.”  This book was first published in the USA in 1994. Sadly these words still apply today.

There has also been little change in attitude in our conversations about death and the types of funeral services available or what we can ask for whilst certain health issues continue to be suppressed and distorted.  The aged continue to be not openly valued or cared for in our communities. Governments continue to be guilty of not setting an example through supporting and implementing beneficial suggestions when raised or denying such services due to penny-pinching.  This maintenance of the status quo has set me wondering if the relationship between the isolation and division in just about all areas of life such as race, religion, age, income, where we live, what we do for a living, our politics, our gender etc., contributes to the disconnection of people from their communities and leads to them feeling ignored rather than valuable.  I also wonder whether the elderly are viewed as the poster people for death and are dismissed and denied basic compassion in the same manner most deny death. Ageing is displayed as distasteful in most areas of marketing. We are bombarded with advertisements on how to be younger if we use certain cosmetics, surgery, diets, cars, clothing etc. The promotion of articles with an unhealthy and often unrealistic focus on youth and celebrities drowns out even minimal attention on our elders.

In addition, poor planning for infrastructure puts a strain on services to the aged, and this combined with practices in our culture that ignore this group definitely robs them of any opportunity to end their lives well.   Of course, there are many groups that require attention in our communities, but my focus is on the elderly because I now understand more about them. It is a reality that if our lives aren’t taken before our time, we all will be old. I am concerned for their isolation and/or impoverishment and being robbed of the chance for a better end of life. I hope that we can all live to the best standard of our circumstances so that we may die well.

On a related note on ageing, it was a disappointing to find not too long ago that some of my fellow females react with embarrassment and shame when the topic of menopause is raised.  Northrup says: “The conventional medical mindset is that menopause is a deficiency disease, not a natural process.  Just as women’s bodies have become pathologized and medicalized by the patriarchal, addictive system, so too has every function unique to women, menopause included.”  Again it is at a valuable stage of  life that the accumulated wisdom in women and men are not valued or recognised.

Why are we so scared of talking about natural processes of our lives?  Denying their existence has no benefit and often contributes to problems.

During her appearance on Channel Ten’s The Project, Molly Carlisle, a multi-award winning palliative care activist, author and international speaker said that when doctors around the world were surveyed as to whether they wanted to be revived or kept alive by machines and they all answered ‘no’. They only desired the use of painkillers in order to be kept comfortable during the dying process.

And yesterday morning on ABC radio, I heard a health professional quoting what Florence Nightingale was believed to have said: “It is our role to support the patient so that nature can take its course.”  I believe now the medical profession has taken the Hippocratic Oath too far by reviving lives beyond the patient’s wishes with small regard for quality of life.  Again, conversations need to be had among family members and between client and health professional about end of life preparations as well as in the broader communities.  There are organisations who are striving to do this, such as The GroundSwell Project and monthly Death Cafes held around capital cities yet we’ve a long way to go.

I’m interested to know whether you have thought about preparation for the end of your life  and what does that mean to you?  What concerns or fears do you have about it?  Are there subjects you feel unable to talk about because they are deemed to be shameful?

Christiane Northrup, Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom – Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing. (1998) pp 518, 520


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