White mice, Nazis, Elephants and my Mum

As I tucked in to my BLT, minus the lettuce, who has lettuce for breakfast?

I reflected I’d driven 500 miles in the last few days visiting Birmingham, Norwich and Peterborough.

Birmingham to see my mum Maureen. 84 years of age and still a natural blond! She looks damn good for it. Spread across her dining table a 1000 piece jigsaw. Something I would only attempt with the aid of a pair of scissors – don’t tell me that piece doesn’t fit here.

‘It helps keep my mind active’ she tells me. Mum is a firm adherent of keeping her mind and body in good order as she ages. ‘Use it or lose it’ is not lost on her.

It was the anniversary of my dad’s death yesterday. His end of life experience – not good. My mum’s will be a lot better. We are comfortable talking about her death, or more to the point how she would wish to live the end of her life.

It’s my constant mantra, death isn’t about death its about life.
Sunday and I’m in the Death Cafe in Norwich. I sit next to an elderly man and ask him where he’s from.

‘As you can tell from my accent, not from here,’ he says. He had escaped from Nazi Germany on one of the last Kinder Trains in July 1939. ‘I remember Kristallnacht very well,’ he tells me. ‘The Nazi’s broke into my house and took my father to Dachau’.

Happily he has spent the last 60 years living in Norwich and is now a great grandfather.

The gathering was a small but select one, ably hosted by Su, Kayla and Bet. Intimate conversations took place.

Why do different cultures react differently to death? Did people ‘scream the house down’ because it was expected or was there some more primeval instinct at play?

How do you help people cope with guilt. Feeling responsible for the death of someone else is a terrible burden –“If only I’d been there I could have prevented it.”

Life is always full of ifs and buts. If someone wants to end their life it can be difficult depriving them of all opportunity to do so.

Was it okay to care more about the death of a pet than a relative? Do I have the right to exercise the power of life or death over my white mice?

And then on to Peterborough, which always makes me think of Roy Kinnear dressed as a Roman legionnaire (sorry showing my age).

Maggie Fay and the very nice people at Sue Ryder asked me to help host a Death Cafe at Thorpe Hall Hospice earlier this year. Unable to resist their excellent carrot cake I went back last night for a return Cafe.

Once again we had a large and vibrant crowd. Maggie and I had agreed it would be a good idea to bring Dementia into the death debate. Familiar tales came out of friendships lost, GP’s who feigned disinterest and feelings of guilt as the thick fog of dementia slowly developed.

Children and younger people were far more open to discussing death than their elders. ‘Granny, will uncle Peter have turned into bones yet?’

How better to remember a loved one than to have his ashes turned into a ring.
The room buzzed. We sat and talked about life and death for two hours. As always there was laughter. We all left strengthened in the view that death was only a begining and not the end. If and when that elephant came into the room we would all recognize him far sooner. Even better it was time to start talking about elephants before they came into the room.

Notes

Kristallnacht (Crystal Night)
In 1938 Nazis went on the rampage across Germany looting and destroying Jewish Shops and businesses leaving the ground strewn with the broken glass from shop windows.

Kinder Trains
Brought German Jewish children out of Germany shortly before the outbreak of WW2


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