Linda Jane McCurrach is an end-of-life doula – a non-medical, holistic companion who guides and helps people to have a gentle and tranquil death.
By Maria Croce
Midwives are associated with helping to bring new life into the world. But there’s another type who are there at the end, when people are dying.
Linda Jane McCurrach is a “soul midwife” or end-of-life doula – a non-medical, holistic companion who guides and supports the dying to help them have a gentle and tranquil death.
She describes the people she supports as friends and says it’s about helping them have a “good” death. But she admits some people initially find it difficult to grasp the idea that there can be a positive side to something so finite.
Linda Jane added: “People don’t even want to think about having a good death because they can’t imagine dying.
“But in eastern culture, they believe that only by looking at our death can we live fully.”
She sees some parallels between conventional midwives who bring new life into the world and her role for the souls who are leaving.
She said: “I couldn’t imagine my mum not having someone there. I thought, ‘What would it be like for someone to be on their own?’ It really struck home that I can help people going through this alone.”
Linda Jane has now launched a charity called No One Dies Alone Ayrshire.
For those who are alone, it aims to provide companions in the last 48 hours of life. It also offers respite for those with families.
Companions will offer support at home, in care homes, in hospital and hospices and will enable people to die according to their wishes.
The charity has started its work in East Ayrshire with plans to expand into the rest of the county.
Linda Jane, 48, has five children – Jordan, 23, Lewis, 22, Kai, 17, Nathan, 15 and Freya, eight – and lives near Newmilns in Ayrshire.
Having had difficult experiences and relationship break-ups, she said death puts everything else into perspective.
She added: “You have a greater sense of what’s important.”
The hardest part of her role is when people open up to her in their final days.
She said: “It can be hard to then move back into a normal life. But I surround myself with the right people who help me with that.”
She remembers the first time she sat with someone who was dying.
Linda Jane said: “I was concerned with doing everything right. It wasn’t until the end I realised it’s not really about the stuff you know and the things you can do, it’s about being there.
“Death is individual. It’s not scary. But if the person is feeling a bit scared, you can be a loving presence to help them get through.”
She said the dying want to know what’s happening to them.
Linda Jane added: “People want to know the process. It’s not commonly spoken about.”
She also helps them make peace with the world.
“Ultimately, death is the major letting go in our lives,” she said. “We have to let go of everything and it starts with letting go of the past.
“Sometimes they need to get things off their chest or make amends with family members and things weighing heavily with them.
“And everybody wants to know where they’re going to go afterwards. Having a visualisation of somewhere they would like to go really helps with that, for instance a meadow full of bluebells.”
Although she’s less scared of dying herself now, Linda Jane said she wouldn’t want to leave her children yet.
She added: “I think hopefully by the time I die, I’ll be ready. I know death can be positive and beautiful.”
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By Trish Rodriguez*
I have to confess that I am a Katy Butler fan. When I started the journey to become an End of Life Doula, her Knocking on Heaven’s Door was one of the first books that I read. I didn’t so much read the book as devoured it, often catching a sob in my throat as I read her deeply personal account of the horror show that became her fathers final years. I admired the courage and honesty of the parts of the book that were memoir, and the research on the current culture of American healthcare with respect to death. I agreed that our way of dying in the good ol’ USA has come to leave something to be desired.
In her newest work The Art of Dying Well – A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life, Katy picks up the narrative in a new and accessible way. She divides the process of moving toward the end into seven unique segments defined not so much by age but by ability and functionality. At the beginning of each of these chapters she has a list of statements and suggests that if many of these apply to you now, this might be where you find yourself. I found this approach fresh and, best of all, non-threatening. This might be just the way to start a conversation with a unwilling family member.
In the first segment, aptly titled Resilience, we learn that in this stage of well being we can still dramatically impact our health, longevity, and ultimately the quality of our death. By building reserves (aka altering what we eat and whether we’re active enough), finding allies in preventative medicine, and increasing our circle of friends and acquaintances, we are still in the drivers seat with regard to how things will go for us as our situation changes. This perspective gives lots of practical advice for those who may think there is plenty of time.
With each ongoing chapter comes an inevitable decline – not according to any decade of life or disease process – but according to naturally decreasing functionality. I like that she is careful to follow this definition, as people age as they darn well please, and I personally know 90 year olds who are still more capable than I am. This lets you find your home page, so to speak, without feeling like a failure or self fulfilling a prophecy to act your age. Every chapter offers practical advice; about healthcare, money, housing, and all those pesky details like advanced directives and wills. In nearly every chapter there are personal accounts of folks who managed things well, or not so well, and lots of food for thought.
There was a great deal of material that wasn’t new to me, but I work with dying people. In my every day life, I am always shocked at how hard working, responsible people don’t bother with a will or advanced directive… because? They aren’t going to die? Or they’re not going to die tomorrow? This book may be just the ticket to get you going, or to give to that parent who is dragging their feet about preparing for anything. With a helpful glossary and pages and pages of useful references included, this will certainly be a ‘go to’ book in my personal library and in my practice.
* Special correspondent, Trish Rodriguez, is an End of Life Doula and hospice vigil volunteer in Anacortes, WA.
By Shan Ross
Baby boomer LGBTQI people in care homes are “de-gaying” themselves to hide their sexual or gender identity for fear of bullying and discrimination from staff and other residents, a film maker has said.
Glenda Rome’s film, Return To The Closet?, featuring Scots who lived in some of the toughest times to be gay, will be premiered at the CCA in Glasgow on 1 May, 2019, at the launch of the month-long 2019 Luminate festival for older citizens.
The documentary is released in the same year as the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in New York, which saw a week of rioting breaking out after police raided the Stonewall Inn gay club in the early hours of 28 June, 1969.
The event was hailed as being a catalyst for the modern fight for the gay rights movement in the US and around the world.
Older LGBT people in care or who have carers visiting their homes have spoken of “de-gaying” their living space by removing photographs of themselves with a same-sex partner and mementoes of their past.
Others say they are afraid of how other residents will treat them if they reveal their sexuality.
However, Rome, commissioned by Luminate and LGBT Age, to make the film, said one of the most shocking things uncovered during research and extensive interviews was that many care homes report they have no LGBTQI residents.
“The idea of older people feeling they have to ‘go back into the closet’ is terrible. It’s something people are just starting to think about now and the last thing we need is for the progress that has been made, which was hard-won for a generation who lived through the criminalisation of their sexuality, to be undermined.
“The real value of this film is not about creating answers but about inspiring an important conversation.”
Homosexuality among men was illegal in Scotland until 1980 – lagging 13 years behind the law in England and Wales.
This was a factor behind former lecturer Alan Johnson, 77 – who lives in Largs, and appears in the documentary – leaving Scotland in the mid-60s, after graduating from the University of St Andrews to move to London.
“My decision to move to London was in large measure related to escaping from then Presbyterian, and distinctly homophobic, Scotland to a more liberal and welcoming environment where gay venues (bars, clubs and other meeting places) were already more established and accepted.
“Many of my friends did likewise around the same time, and for the same reasons.
“When I was a teenager in Scotland in the mid-1950s same-sex relationships were illegal, criminalised, condemned and pathologised; the word ‘gay’ was not in use; religious intolerance was widespread; and ‘coming out’ (least of all to my churchgoing parents) was quite impossible.
“Fortunately, so much has changed for the better in recent years – but this repression has left a near indelible mark on many older LGBT people, particularly so in Scotland. Many of us speak about this in the film.”
Johnson added: “The whole point in making this film was to influence carers, particularly in care homes.
“There are people who have had all sorts of bad experiences in care homes or when receiving care at home because of their sexuality.
“In general, before you need help, it can be quite common to be ‘out’ to some people but not all. But once you are in residential care that living space becomes your home and you should feel safe and have freedom to be honest about how you live your life.”
Liz Haggart, in her late-60s, from Edinburgh, who also appears in the documentary, said she and her LGBT friends had been speaking about their fears if they need care in the future.
“We’ve spoken about this a few times. We’re really worried about it.
“But the thing is, there’s probably a lots of gay people in the care sector, scared to come out, wondering how the rest of the staff would treat it.”
Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, who will take part in a Q and A session following the screening, said: “In order to become a carer staff must have a qualification, usually a SVQ3 covering equality and diversity. So in terms of the workforce I’m sure there will only be a tiny minority who may not choose to address the issue sensitively.
“Another factor to bear in mind is that any residents in a care home living with dementia may be less inhibited about expressing opinions which they held years ago, sometimes giving offence to others.”
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