Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Neolithic meets the Cosmic: wonderful outdoor art!

Recently we visited the newly-opened Crawick Multiverse, near Sanquhar in Scotland, an outdoor, amazing landscape sculpture created on what had been disused mine workings by landscape artist Charles Jencks. It is an astounding place to visit – and an inspiring one.

We felt that Jencks had managed to create in stone, land and space, a metaphorical Great Circle: from where we began in the Neolithic era to express our physical and intuitive connection to  the universe of which we are part, to where we are now – astounded by the immensity of  the cosmos  as it stands revealed through the technical brilliance of modern science.

Here is the video explaining his concept, by the man himself.

Enjoy the photos – and GO THERE!

Crawick Multiverse Ground Map

Crawick Multiverse Ground Map

Ian - time traveller

Ian – time traveller

From the Multiverse...

From the Multiverse…

Yours Truly - on Andromeda...

Yours Truly – on Andromeda…

Mosaic Multiverse

Mosaic Multiverse

150 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015/ Photos copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

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On Life, Death, and Planet Janet…

In last week’s post  I raised the very difficult question of our increasing medically-expedited longevity  – and the ethical, moral and economic issues it is bringing along with it. The post produced some very interesting responses, this one from USA commenter Gaye Mack being one of them:

“When I was in grad school I had to take an ethics course and our single grade was based on a 5 minute presentation. I presented myself as Hippocrates arguing in front of the Supreme Court on this issue pointing out that my oath of ‘first do no harm’ could also be applied to the concept that to extend life beyond a reasonable means for the patient and family– emotionally, physically and FINANCIALLY, was in fact, ‘doing harm’…”

Just as I was facing up to my own and my husband’s demise, and we were about to embark upon completing the relevant medical and legal forms, I  had a conversation on the subject with my dear friend Peggy. In her mid eighties, she is still amazingly active, enjoys life, and continues to be a wonderful support to other people as well as a shining example to those of us coming behind her regarding how we should grow older. Peggy, of course refuses to be complimented – “Away with you!!” is her usual retort.

I recorded our conversation, which is quite short, and have Peggy’s permission to share it. It has the usual mix of Peggy’s and my conversations: a rich mix of grave seriousness, black humour, and sheer irreverence.Here it is. I do hope you can make time to listen, and leave your responses – to continue the dialogue on the topic of how we face and deal with death and dying in the 21st Century.

Anne and Peggy on Life, Death and Planet Janet

Grim Reaper

Grim Reaper

300 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

“…A time to die…”…but when? And how?

Baby Boomers are the first generation in human history to be able to rely on medical advances to prolong their lives considerably. They have, in effect, added on average more than a decade to the traditional, biblical ‘three score years and ten’ as a result of medical advances enabled by technology  – accelerating in particular since the start of the twenty-first century.

However, in the universe we inhabit, light and dark co-exist: one does not come without the other.

The shadow side of this striking gain in longevity is that death can now be put off for a considerable time, often resulting in – on average – eighteen years of deteriorating health with its attendant misery for the individuals involved, their families and friends. The economic realities of this are becoming more and more pressing. Western countries, on average, are dealing with a population as a whole who consume more in health care resources in their final six weeks than in the whole of their preceding lives.

Most of us can now quote several cases from personal experience or from hearsay, of individuals whose lives were painfully prolonged: by those individuals not having made their end of life wishes clear; by families’ general inability to communicate with one another regarding the painful and threatening question of the inevitability of death; and by the medical profession’s increasing focus on the technicalities of technology-expedited care, rather than the humanity, compassion and tough-minded realism required to enable people to have, as well as a good life,  a good death when the time comes that life has no quality left and there is only distress and suffering.

On the latter topic, I highly recommend surgeon  Atul Gawande’s wonderful book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”, currently topping the best-seller lists. Here, the author  tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but  needs also to address the hard problem of how to assist the process of its inevitable ending: with greater humanity, care and wisdom than is all-too-often practised at the moment.

In the UK, as the assisted dying debate rages on, with around 75% of the population supposed to be in favour of some form of assisted dying being legalised, increasing numbers of people are choosing to take matters into their own hands. For example, at the end of July 2015, a healthy 75-year-old former nurse took her life at a Swiss suicide clinic after saying she could not bear growing old. Gill Pharaoh – who had specialised in nursing the elderly – said old age was not ‘fun’ and that she preferred euthanasia to becoming ‘an old lady hobbling up the road with a trolley’. Only this evening, I found in my email inbox the following from the UK’s Dignity in Dying campaign:

“Today, Bob Cole had an assisted death at Dignitas in Switzerland and his story has been covered by almost every major media outlet in the country, including a front page in The Sun newspaper.”

I would be most interested to know where my readers are on this crucial issue. My husband and I have completed Advance Directives, stating clearly in writing what our wishes are – and are not– regarding medical care at the end of our lives. To this we have added Power of Attorney documents which give added weight to our Advance Directives. The latter at present have legal force in England but not in Scotland.

I also persuaded our GP to obtain Do Not Resuscitate forms, normally kept in hospitals, which we have included, signed by him. Copies of all these are now with us, our GP and geographically closest next of kin.

All this, of course, may not be enough if either of us is painfully and terminally ill and palliative care,  which in theory should be fully available to everyone but regarding which anecdotal evidence –sadly– is building to show where such measures have failed or are inadequate. What would one, other, or both of us do then? I have to admit that, at present, I do not know the answer to that….I’ve also lived long enough to know that, often, you really can not know what you would do in a very tough situation until you are actually there….

Anne and Peggy

Anne and Peggy

A year or so ago, before my husband and I had sorted out what we would do in terms of advance wishes, I had a discussion on the topic of what one does at the end of life with my dear friend Peggy. In her mid eighties, she is still amazingly active, enjoys life, and continues to be a wonderful support to other people as well as a shining example to those of us coming behind her regarding how we should grow older. Peggy, of course refuses to be complimented – “Away with you!!’ is her usual retort.

I recorded our conversation, which is quite short, and have Peggy’s permission to share it. It has the usual mix of Peggy’s and my conversations: a rich mix of grave seriousness, black humour, and sheer irreverence. I hope to post this conversation next week, to continue the dialogue on the topic of how we face and deal with death and dying in the 21st Century.

In the meantime, do let me know what your thoughts are on this, one of the most important issues of our era.

**********

900 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

As summer loses hold…a melancholy musing…

I have always loved August, that month where a particular coolness in the morning air on stepping out, a papery rustle tingeing the wind blowing through the trees, intimates that Summer is losing its hold upon the year, that Autumn is ascending…

August is my birth month. There is an almost, a poised melancholy about it which fits my temperament well. From a very young age I have been very aware of the transience of Life: for all its challenge, turmoil, joy, grief and seemingly endless possibility, its manifold excitements, loves and pleasures, it is soon gone: a frail leaf drifting down to the river of Time which carries everything mortal to the great Universal Sea.

Whilst in a pleasingly melancholy August mood today, I dipped into a favourite inspirational book and found this gem, which I thought I’d share, from Katherine Mansfield…

Death of a Rose…

“…It is a sensation that can never be forgotten, to sit in solitude, in semi-darkness, and to watch the slow, sweet, shadowful death of a Rose.

Oh, to see the perfection of the perfumed petals being changed ever so slightly, as though a thin flame had kissed each with hot breath, and where the wounds bled the colour is savagely intense . . . I have before me such a Rose, in a thin, clear glass, and behind it a little spray of scarlet leaves. Yesterday it was beautiful with a certain serene, tearful, virginal beauty, it was strong and wholesome, and the scent was fresh and invigorating.

To-day it is heavy and languid . . . So now it dies . . . And I listen . . . for under each petal fold there lies the ghost of a dead melody, as frail and as full a as a ray of light upon a shadowed pool. Oh divine sweet Rose. Oh, exotic and elusive and deliciously vague Death..”. Katherine Mansfield: The Death of a Rose (from The Virago Book of Spirituality, Edited by Sarah Anderson, published 1996,  p276 )

One fallen leaf....

One fallen leaf….

350 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page