Euthanasia should be legal

Euthanasia should be legalised. In my role as a funeral celebrant I hear some shocking stories about how people suffer at the end of their life. Death can come suddenly or a person lingers, gradually fading. For some older people, the body weakens while the mind stays alert. Others remain physically strong, but cognitive losses take a huge toll. End of life is a period in which someone deteriorates. This can take days, weeks, months or longer but it’s usually an unpleasant period in someone’s life and actually unnecessary given medical advances. At the end of someone’s life we aim to make this time comfortable, managing pain and distressing symptoms. But there’s only so much we, the families, doctors and nurses can do. Many people still suffer and it’s totally inhumane and barbaric to allow this suffering to happen.
My dad is end of life. He’s barely eaten in months and has lost lots of weight. He says it’s painful on his stomach to eat. He’s confined to a wheelchair and cries because he can’t go out to his favourite cafe. He’s in pain because he has bone cancer and the cancer is spreading. Several months ago he told his social worker that he wanted to go to Switzerland to end his life. Is this an unreasonable request? I don’t think so. It’s his life and why should he suffer? It’s not as if he’ll get better. But the mention of suicide is a red flag to an social worker and doctor and he was immediately prescribed anti depressants which only mask the real situation going on. It is wrong that the state should have the last word on life and death matters and it’s time we took control over our lives.
Those against euthanasia argue that families might put pressure on their loved ones to end their life. Actually the problem is more likely to be the other way around. Families are more likely to try to stop their loved ones ending their life. This has to be an agreement between the patient and the doctor and it has to be decided at the outset when the diagnosis is made and when the patient still has mental capacity. Opponents also put forward many legal obstacles.
This is how I would administer the system: Doctors could conduct a short interview at regular points in a patients life. This could be done when the patient sees the doctor at an appointment and as part of the patient’s health check. The interview would ask some basic questions about whether they want the lethal injection when they reach end of life. Their views can be assessed over their lifetime from 18 years onwards, so that by the time somebody is at end of life, for instance suffering from terminal cancer and in pain they know for sure it’s what the person wants because there has been consistency in their belief over a long period of time.

#metoo hashtag and my experiences of sexual harassment

The #metoo hashtags which blew up all over Facebook and Twitter last week got me thinking. Female solidarity the world over was galvanised by the numerous discussions and heated debate. At last thanks to social media women from all walks of life have been given a platform to come out and share their experiences of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour by men in the work place or simply to put their hand up and be counted. Whether this will lead to change in society, discussion and action in the real world where we take control, meeting and challenging our perpetrators face to face, holding them to account for their behaviour remains to be seen.

When I first saw the hashtag I must admit I dismissed it as left wing claptrap, a bunch of feminists having a rant but the more I thought about it the more I came to realise that I too have been sexually harassed in the workplace and I should have been bold enough to stand up and be counted too, because without collective solidarity society’s attitudes will never change.

I graduated in 1987. Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister was in power and things should have changed for women, but they didn’t. The late 80s was a great time to enter the workforce. The economy was expanding and developing and traditional industries were in decline. There were huge opportunities for graduates to make serious money. This was the rise of the financial, service and retail sector. Large retailers cluttered the halls of the university milk round events and I was interviewed by Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Woolworths for their graduation schemes. Eventually though I ended up in credit management and worked for a few years for Amec Engineering.

I worked in the fire engineering department and we maintained the sprinkler systems of companies across the UK. I was based in an office near London Bridge. There were around seventy people working there consisting of draftsmen, project managers, accountants and engineers. There were only three women working there; myself and two secretaries. I found it fun working in a male environment.I didn’t feel intimidated and there was always lots of sexual innuendo and banter going on. When I walked past the draftsmen to go to the loo one of them always whistled or stopped to have a tease about something or one of them would tell me that I had a nice bum.
My boss sat opposite me and there were three other men close by. There was always a lot of sexual banter going on. ‘When’s she going to climb on the step ladder and get a file down so we can see that bum of hers?’ was something they often said. One day my boss and I took the train to Chestnut to visit Tesco head offices. On the train he said through spluttered laughter, ‘now this is the plan. You’ve got to flash your tits at them, then they’ll sign the deal.’ He put his hand on my knee as he said it, giving my knee a little rub. It was all a bit Sid James and at the time I found it amusing but now as I look back I see that it was all inappropriate behaviour.
But worse was to come when I moved into teaching. I didn’t imagine there would be sexual harassment in the teaching profession. It was 1993. I had recently qualified as a history teacher and got offered a full time post at a secondary school along the south coast. Within a few weeks of starting the job I found I was pregnant. I had only recently got married. I waited until I was 14 weeks and then went to see the head. I expected to take maternity leave from around 38 weeks and return to the job after a short maternity leave. The head got up from his desk and went to close the door so that we weren’t overheard. He peered at me and then mockingly said ‘and how do you think you’ll be able to work full time with a baby?’ I explained that I would employ a childminder. He said ‘that’s not a good idea. You’ve no idea what they will be like. Are you prepared to risk your baby’s life?’ I was stunned. He then said ‘how will you be able to stay late for meetings?’ And much worse ‘my wife couldn’t juggle a career and a baby, few women can.’
Incensed I went home that day and wrote to the National Union of Teachers.I told them everything the headteacher had said to me. They called a few days later and seemed very concerned. A representative held a meeting with the headteacher and my department head and then we had a meeting together. The head said that it wouldn’t be possible for me to return to my full time job as a history teacher but he could offer two days a week teaching religious studies or three days a week teaching geography but I would have to apply for these posts. The union rep seemed quite happy with these suggestions and thought the head was being fair.It didn’t seem to register with him that I wanted to teach history. That was what I was employed to teach and that was what I’d been trained to teach, not geography or RE. As I listened to the discussion I wanted to melt away and I was stifling the tears, feeling a sinking sense of helplessness around a table of all men.
Over the course of my career I went for numerous interviews and some of the interviewers blatantly disregarded the sex discrimination legislation. In one of the interviews I was asked if I could drive. I was in the process of learning and didn’t need to drive to be able to do the job. The bus service was very good. I told him that I was learning and he said ‘you need to learn to drive because how do you imagine you will ferry your children to school?’ I was only 22 at the time. Having children was the last thing on my mind! The question was bizarre and unrelated to the job.
Things have moved on a lot since the 1990s but we need to be aware of harassment and inappropriate behaviour and have the courage, as women to report things that aren’t right or make us feel uncomfortable.

Thank you for reading!

An eerie hue to the sky on the 30th anniversary of the 1987 hurricane

It’s exactly 30 years ago that hurricane force winds battered Britain. It’s 3pm and the sky looks eerie. It’s taken on an apricot hue as if a sand cloud is rolling across the sky. Half of the sky is black. The street lights came on at 2.30pm as mothers left for the school run. I ran home from the Cafe Nero worried I would get caught in a rain storm but there were only a few spots. It feels as if there is an eclipse of the sun. The air is exceptionally warm and there’s no wind but yet I have the distinct feeling that a storm is brewing, Orphelia, moving across from the west and maybe it will be worse than in 1987.

I remember the hurricane of October 1987 well. I’d just graduated and was doing voluntary work at The Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Tunbridge Wells. My mum was running a bed and breakfast and I was relegated to the attic room at the top of the house. I had no bathroom and had to wash at work. I couldn’t wait to leave home but I had nowhere else to go.

At about 3am I looked out of my attic window to see the branches of trees bent right over, kissing the land. The sky had the same apricot hue that it has now, as I type. The electricity went out. The headlines at 7am reported that “storms have wrecked havoc across Britain.”

These are some of your memories of the 1987 storm gathered from friends on Facebook:

“Waking up in the middle of the night hearing all the noise. I was 15 so found it more exciting than scary and of course we got the next day off school! My baby brother has just turned 30 so was a wee baby when it happened and he was the only one that slept through it all!”

“The smell of salt water in the air and the wood at the bottom of the field where I lived was matchwood like a giant hand had swiped the trees asunder and in the village slates from roofs sticking in the ground as though thrown like a knife. In the days that followed every electricity worker from across UK were working on the power one van was from Wales . I lived in a timber framed farmhouse it survived without a scratch because it literally moved with the wind . Mother Nature it seems has the last say always.”

“I woke in the early hours and such was the severity of the wind I decided to bring Starsky the rabbit and his hutch inside my kitchen. I chucked on my dressing gown and bent down to lift up the hutch when a wild gust of wind made my dressing gown fly up and wrap itself round my head. I had nothing on underneath.
Later that day my next door neighbour informed me, rather creepily, that he had seen me getting the hutch inside!”

“At the time I was living in Eynsford in Kent. The villlage like so many others around was cut off because of fallen trees. Our old timber cottage from 1640 also survived the devestation. It probably has seen many a bad storm in its time. I was at college at the time and managed (don’t know how) to get into Dartford with my dad as he worked for a timber company and needed to check the premises for damage. Trees around his factory were all gone. Dartford was like a ghost town and college was closed! Scary!”

“The power went off at the local hospital and the backup generator failed temporarily. I remember my flat mate telling me how they had to hand ventilate the babies on the intensive care unit.
Somehow managed to get trains and buses to Bexhill from London (took all day) to check on parents – no mobiles then and landlines down. Remember seeing half the beach on the roads.
Parents had some broken windows from flying pebbles but nothing serious – and they lived about a mile from the sea!”

“A power cut early morning. Was impossible to get to work, so walked for miles just taking loads on photos – was just unbelievable. On the Saturday, the army cleared 90+ fallen trees from our railway line just to the next station !”

“Living up a steep hill surrounded by woods was noisy and scary. I had only gone home for the night as ny boyfriend was on nights and i wanted to see my Mum and Dad. I woke up to the howling wind and immediately seeked refuge in my sisters bedroom floor as her secondary glazing was all fitted and much quieter. I woke in the morning and no way could i get into work, so i walked back to my boyfriends house. First thing he asked was why are you not at work? He had come home earĺy and slept through all of it so it took some convincing what had happened! Poor Sevenoaks and surrounding areas were a bit if a mess. We lost a few branches of our 200 + year old tree in my parents garden and a few odd small trees had snapped so we were quite lucky. If the large ones had gone over to the side, they would have smashed straight into the house.”

“My bedroom was located above a carport and I could feel movement in the walls during the early hours. I had arranged to go to London that day and so got up for an early start to find that there was no power and when I go outside it was difficult to put one foot ahead of the other without doubling up with the power of the wind. Needless to say I never got to London as there was so much tree destruction that it was barely possible to get out of our village. I managed to get to work later that morning, I worked within the Tenanted Trade Department of a local brewery and spent the rest of the day listening to numerous tenants who called the brewery concerning damage to their pubs, mainly chimney’s collapsing and roof damage.”

“I was 10 at the time and lived in Hassocks. I remember going downstairs and my dad and i watched the lounge room window bow in and out. We heard a massive crack and it was a tree falling down in a nearby field.
We had a stream at the end of our 100ft garden and it rose right up to the middle of our garden.
I also remember that we had no power for 10 days and we had to do our spelling homework by candlelight!
We had a gas oven so my mum cooked jacket potatoes for our elderly neighbours. Wow its amazing how much i can remember seeing as i was only 10!”

“Looked out of the window from my third floor flat overlooking West Sutton station to see the damage – a bird’s eye view across the partk. It felt like an apocalypse. The next day I was due to fly to Geneva for work and was glad I hadn’t been in the air when the storm hit – though possibly that would have been safer!”

“The next morning walking to the course I was doing in central London as there was no transport. I saw a massive tree that had fallen over on Albert Embankment. We both were determined to go to where we had to be, not realising that everything was closed and London was deserted. No emails or texts then to tell us to stay home.”

“I remember driving to work from Dagenham to Aldgate on the A13 as no trains. It was surreal – hardly any cars on the road and the big advertisement boards blown down and strewn across the roads, amongst other stuff – correlated roofing etc ”

“I’ve just found my diary from 1987 and can’t believe I didn’t write a single thing about it, other than very rainy, thunder and gales. However, I can remember feeling very scared with the howling of the gales through the new double glazed windows, clenching my duvet and trying to hide under it, wishing I could look out of my bedroom window to see what was going on in the back garden but pitch black as no lighting at night in sleepy Somerset, wanting my mum who was asleep with my dad in the next bedroom (but that would not be ‘cool’ at the age of 21!), feeling even more scared when hearing the glass of my dad’s greenhouse smash in the back garden, and more than anything I desperately wanted to sleep in order to be oblivious to all the noise and wake up in with everyone safe and everything in one piece in the morning. Next day was just a case of my normal five minute drive to work at Barclays Bank in the next town and my parents making an emergency one hour drive to check our our fleet of holiday caravans in Weymouth (fortunately all of ours were safe and standing upright!)”

“I remember my mum saying that when she looked out of a window she saw a rabitt hutch flying through the sky!!! Just hope the poor rabbit had escaped before take off!”

“I was working and living in a pub in Sevenoaks at the time, it was a tall building and my room was of course at the top, didn’t sleep at all, every one else slept through it, went straight down to the Vine in the morning to see the devastation everywhere !! Couldn’t get to my parents house at East Hill, Otford, all cut of with fallen tree”

“I was sitting at a bus stop in Watford Lower high Street, outside Hammonds music store. The Harlequin shopping centre was under construction at the time, it’s tall tower cranes were swaying in the wind like lonely stalks of corn. I watched mesmerized fully expecting one to come down, they didn’t, but boy were they put to the test.The other thing that burns bright in my memory banks, and not much does these days, is a news report from Holland that showed an aerial shot of young lads leaning into the wind on the edge of cliff tops akin to our Dover Cliffs. These idiots were almost horizontal leaning out to sea. What if the wind had suddenly died or ebbed I thought, they’d be goners!”

“I was 15 and remember hearing the wind during the night and waking in the morning to see trees fallen and the best thing was being told that my school would be closed for the day via the radio no mobiles then. My friend and I spent the day exploring the damage in the area I lived at the time Selsdon South Croydon.”

Grief and types of grievers

Grief is the range of human emotions we experience when we lose someone we love who we will never see again because they have died. All hope has gone. There is a finality to the situation. People talk about the fog of grief. It can include negative as well as positive emotions in the form of remembering and maybe seeing it as life altering and a step on the road to a different pattern of life. Grief involves physical pain in the form of heartache, sadness, emptiness, missing the person and never stopping thinking about them or holding thoughts of them close to you. The world feels like a big and scary place without your loved one.

The description above is the collective view of about twenty funeral professionals I met on a grief training course in London, run by Caroline Lloyd who calls herself the Grief Geek and has written a book on grief. This blog is about what I learned on the course; it’s my interpretation of what I learned and what I gleaned from the course and not necessarily a reflection of what Caroline believes or the message Caroline was imparting. You would need to attend the course yourself. I am a funeral celebrant in West Sussex and you can find my website and contact information here: https://beautifulfuneralsussexkent.co.uk and here: http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk/index.php?

When you lose a significant person you love you go through an identity crisis. Who am I now? What is my new identity? You lose your identity in relation to the other person and it’s a confusing time while you reestablish your place within your family, society and friendship circles. As funeral professionals we cannot make assumptions about relationships and it’s best to ask the bereaved what is the hardest part you’re dealing with? What does the loss mean that person? Sometimes we grieve for what we didn’t have in the relationship, unfulfilled expectations, broken promises, and we are now coming to terms with the hurt and pain the person caused us.

As professionals we mustn’t tell someone how we feel, for instance, “I know what it must be like for you.” We don’t know. Don’t hijack another person’s grief. Ask open ended questions and above all listen and emphasise. Our role as funeral celebrants and funeral arrangers can be difficult because often families will turn the deceased into saints and as we deliver the eulogy we are met with confused frowns because some of the mourners don’t recognise the true person we are talking about.The phrase “we all have our own personal feelings about this person” can be useful in the funeral script. We have complicated lives and complicated relationships and we all grieve differently and so will communicate differently. We must never underestimate how debilitating grief is.

It’s better to use phrases such as “I can imagine how you are feeling”, “I’m lost for words” “I’m sorry I don’t know what to say but I’m here to listen.” Use open questions not closed questions. Say something authentic. When I lost my baby my doctor looked at me and said “Life’s a shit.” It was best thing anybody could have said and much better than the harsh words of my aunt “you need to forget it happened and move on to the next pregnancy.”

It is also difficult because we are dealing with a range of people in a family. Sometimes different family members don’t get on, they have different relationships with the deceased, don’t see things in the same way and there can be a grief hierarchy within families; people who think they are more important and who own the grief while sweeping aside the feelings of other members of the family. We need to tread carefully and be sensitive.

The bereaved do not go through stages of grief. There is no order to feelings and emotions as they pop up or engulf us. It is not prescriptive. We must never make assumptions about how someone feels. There is no length of time in the journey of grief either. We are all different. But the person who has received the diagnosis that they have a terminal illness and there is nothing that can be done will go through stages of grief as they come to terms with their diagnosis. The phrases are: 1. Denial/avoidance. We don’t want to accept death. The brains natural instinct is to protect us. We shut down. It’s too much to bear. 2. Hope. We someone think that maybe the doctors are wrong and that all will be well and maybe there are alternative forms of treatment, etc. 3. Guilt. For all the things we haven’t done and said. 4. Sadness and feelings of loss.

When someone dies there is an expectation that you will get over your loss and often we put barriers up and other people think we have got over the person but of course we haven’t. They might ask ‘how are you?’ We reply ‘I’m fine.’ We aren’t truthful. To reveal or feelings doesn’t feel like a safe place to be in but we pay a price by not saying how we feel because we lock our feelings in and this slows our recovery from the pain of loss. As a nation we deal badly with this badly. The First World War changed how we were. Villages lost so many people, whole families. Death was commonplace. There were just too many deaths and so we locked our feelings in. It was too much to cope with. We developed the stiff upper lip. In today’s world we have unrealistic expectations about life. We expect longevity. We expect the medical professionals to cure us.

You don’t get over your loss. The reality is that you learn to grow around your loss. You will and can never be the same again. You learn to live without your loved and carry them with you. They have, in a sense been relocated… to your heart and mind.

Complicated acute grief that goes on for years needs help from a counsellor and doctor because this is not a normal pattern of grief.

Caroline Lloyd discusses the concept of grieving types. She suggests that there are two types of grievers or bereaved: the introvert and the extrovert. Introvert grievers find energy within themselves and use their mind to process their grief. Extrovert grievers are charged up, they blurt out their emotions. Men and women tend to, although we must be careful not to label and make assumptions here, grieve differently. That’s what research has established anyway but maybe the reality is that we act differently each time we lose someone or it will depend who they are and the other things going on in their life. Life is never simple.

Caroline also talked abut what she called intuitive and instrumental grievers. Intuitive grievers are more likely to be women. They are open, chat more about their grief. Instrumental grievers are action based. They might process their grief cognitively, refer to self help books and even benchmark their grief. They try to impose order where there is chaos.

As funeral arrangers and as funeral celebrants being aware of the instrumental and intuitive types is useful because it can help us to help the bereaved in the way they want us to help them. The instrumental and introvert griever will need clear timescales, a more formal and planned approach, no affectionate attitudes or platitudes, hugs. They are often old school. They want professional, friendly but distant. They want the funeral to go to military clockwork. The expect us to be competent, knowledgable on options and choices. They don’t want to know our personal experiences. This isn’t helpful to them.

The intuitive and emotional grievers will obviously expect us to be professional too but they look for a different approach. They find our insight and experiences helpful. They need the box of tissues and to blab. They aren’t stiff and starchy. They reflect and talk about signs like feathers falling and other indicators that the deceased is giving messages to them. They want conversation rather than paperwork and leaflets to take away. They want advice and options.

After the funeral we can signpost the bereaved to useful organisations for help and counselling such as Cruse, Sands and Roadpeace. (Loss due to a road traffic accident)

You can find Caroline Lloyd’s website at https://thegriefgeek.com or why not send her a tweet https://twitter.com/thegriefgeek?lang=en  

Las Vegas shooting from a British viewpoint

Las Vegas is the scene today of slaughter and carnage. Whenever there’s a mass shooting in America I feel deeply saddened, but most of all I feel incensed and I feel deep outrage. Not so much because one screwed up individual has opened fired on innocent lives – although God knows that’s terrible enough – but because the American government has allowed this to happen.

50 people were killed today and more than 400 wounded when a gunman opened fire from his hotel room in the Mandalay. It is the deadliest attack in USA history and the world stands in shock, but it won’t be the last time a mass shooting happens. Until the American government has the strength, resolve, courage and forcefulness to call for a compulsory national firearms amnesty and revoke the second amendment of the American Constitution “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” more lives will be lost.

300 million in America own a handgun. I was horrified to listen to one commentator today say that “the solution to the Vegas shooting is to allow more people to carry guns.” And another commentator said “if we take the gun away they’ll only develop a bomb.” Folk… this is mental, get a grip, step away from your age old attitudes because it’s beginning to wear thin with us over the pond. Guns are responsible for 30,000 deaths in the U.S each year and only 26% support a ban according to a recent Gallup Poll. What is happening to you guys? It seems as though you’ve become numb to mass violence. It’s tragic you say, but then you move on and accept the status quo because that’s the easy thing to do.You believe your politicians when they tell you there’s no solution. You don’t like to be told what to do, you like freedom from the constraints of the state telling you how to live your lives but government ultimately, not the gun will protect you, through a change in the law, putting a halt to these needless, pointless killings.

I loved Las Vegas when I visited the city in the mid 70s and again in 2015. The city had changed out of all recognition in those forty years. I would hate to think that visitors are put off by what has happened but sometimes they are. Las Vegas is a curious party and gambling city rising in the Nevada desert.

My latest novel, “Holiday” is in part set in Las Vegas. It’s a bit Bridget Jones Diary and a bit Bill Bryson. Here are a few quotes.

First glimpse of Las Vegas:

“The dry heat slaps us as we leave the air-conditioned airport and queue for a yellow taxi. It’s an airless heat, the type you get when you open the oven door to a roasting turkey. Small red boulders and palm trees line the route leading from the airport. The Mandalay Hotel glitters in the distance under the intense sun. I can see the replica Statute of Liberty and a Disney Castle and a massive lion in gold. Several tower blocks look like tubes of tin foil.”

Luxor Hotel:

We arrive at our hotel, the Luxor, a black pyramid, gleaming like a giant beetle against a violet sky. It’s like walking into a vast shopping centre, cruise ship, London museum or a multiplex cinema foyer. I can’t decide which. On an upper floor there’s a collection of artefacts from the Titanic. This is a fitting place for the collection because the hotel is titanic in size. Two escalators sweep from the central concourse up to a mezzanine level where there are various eateries. I have never been inside such a gigantic hotel before and we stand in awe, spinning in circles, taking it all in and snapping photos in the dim light, at this spectacular edifice. Blimey and we’ve not even seen our rooms yet. Ray has wandered off, typical of him. There’s a long Disney length queue weaving up and down and around a series of posts. At a quick guess I reckon there are as many as eighty people waiting to check in. Ten members of staff are managing check-in desks.

The whole of humanity in one city:

“From the upper floor I watch as they stream through the stuttering automatic doors. It’s like a bizarre parade of human hippos and whales. There are black jellied creatures with wobbly ripples, little white men with big pot bellies, here for the heart attack grills and the stack of maple pancakes, for this is fat friendly city. They’re puffing and groaning with the weight of their bags, mopping their brows as they join the queue for check-in. It’s a ghastly sight; a pageant of the world’s top repugnants.”

History of Las Vegas:

“Las Vegas was founded in 1905. It was a railroad town linking Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and was a refueling point and rest stop. The Navajo and other American Indian tribes lived here. Work began building the amazing Hoover Dam, bringing labourers and the population mushroomed and boosted the valley’s economy. At the same time casino gambling was legalised. In the 1930s divorce laws were liberalised in Nevada and couples could obtain a quickie divorce after just six weeks residency. These short term residents stayed at ranches taking in paid guests to help make ends meet. The first hotel-casino was built in 1941 to serve an army base. In the 1960s Howard Hughes, the hugely wealthy American entrepreneur, had a buying spree of hotels and other businesses and his presence paved the way for the corporate ownership of hotel-casinos that followed. Today the city is the fastest growing city in the United States and it is estimated that between four thousand and seven thousand people move here each month. Tourism and gaming are the two major employers.”

Here’s the link to “Holiday” and please continue to visit Las Vegas. It’s a great city!

USA: https://www.amazon.com/HOLIDAY-Laugh-out-loud-romantic-Joanna-Warrington-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/HOLIDAY-Laugh-out-loud-romantic-Joanna-Warrington-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/