Meet the end-of-life angels who prepare terminally ill people for the day they die

Maggie’s counsellors help those with terminal cancer cope with fears, worries and practical issues

Mandie Malcolm was just 26 when she found lump on my breast


Lisa Punt doesn’t cry at work. She has never cried at work, even though work, for Punt, is counselling people with terminal cancer and the friends and families of people with terminal cancer.

It must be about as difficult and heart-rending as work can be. Most of us would surely feel tearful when helping people face their own death. And not just their death, but all the concomitant details associated with it, big and small. Who will look after the children? What will happen to the house? What will my spouse do without me? And who’ll water the plants?

What is required of Punt, however, is calmness. “I don’t think I’ve ever been tearful within a consultation or within that interaction. And I think the reason for that is that we [the counsellors] bring to that therapeutic relationship an element of empathy, so we can see what they’re feeling, but at the same time we try very much to step outside actually feeling that emotion that they are experiencing.”

It’s a tough job, Punt says, but it is also a meaningful one. “We see the difference we make.”

Sometimes, though, a particular case will hit a counsellor harder than usual. In those cases, Punt tells me, that counsellor can talk about it with their colleagues, unpicking the feeling and carefully managing it. This process ultimately helps them support the patients and families who need their help. “We are there in a professional capacity,” says Punt, “and we are there to deliver formal, psychological, emotional support, which is part of our training.”

Punt, 51, is the centre head and a cancer support specialist at Maggie’s Cambridge. Maggie’s Centres are places where people with cancer – and their friends and families – can come for support and advice. The centres are beautifully built, designed to be an antidote to the strip-lit hurly-burly of a typical hospital. Within them, staff offer services such as yoga classes, financial advice and, most importantly, a friendly ear.

Maggie’s Cambridge, which is where Punt takes my call after delivering a counselling session, is in the grounds of Addenbrooke’s Hospital. The centre is temporarily housed in former accommodation for hospital staff, but Punt and her colleagues are working towards building a permanent home. “It’ll hopefully be very soon,” she says.

Diagnoses of terminal illness, says Punt, affect people very differently. “When someone walks through the door, we’re trying to work out, ‘What are their major concerns?’ When they’re faced with a terminal disease, they may very much have huge levels of anxiety, fear and worry. There are things like finances, or, ‘How is my partner going to manage when I’m not here if I’ve always sorted out the car insurance or the health insurance?’”

First, the warm, down-to-earth Punt helps her visitor work through their fears around death and dying, which must be no mean feat. The visitor might then be in a better position to address their more practical concerns.

People worry about mortgages, credit cards and life insurance. They wonder whether to retire on the grounds of ill-health and take their pension, or go off sick to ensure a death-in-service payout for their next of kin. They are concerned about funeral arrangements. They might be disinclined to write a will, feeling it to be an acceptance of defeat, but if they seek guidance on that they are offered it, often being given time with a solicitor, free of charge. “Once these things are done,” says Punt, “you have more cap-acity for life, even in the face of death.”

It is breadwinners who tend to worry the most about money issues, says Punt. They are more likely than not to be male, but it is the fact that they are the main earner, rather than their gender, that seems to be the strongest determinant of concern about a family’s financial stability.

Men are less ready to be emotionally voluble, says Punt, and are more likely to attend a support group if its stated purpose is something other than just talking. That purpose can be something as mundane as gardening or sharing bacon butties, but its effect can be to encourage conversation that is as valuable to men as it is to women.

Men and women alike wonder about their partner finding someone new, and it’s not uncommon to feel anxious about being replaced. You might call this the “I bet you’ll end up with Barbara” worry. As Punt puts it: “When children are involved, that’s a very emotive situation. Perhaps a mum is dying and there are two young children who are going to be left behind. Who is Dad going to meet and who’s going to be in the shoes of Mum? That can be a real concern.

“But then, on the other hand, there may be someone who actually gives permission to their partner to go out and find somebody and to not be lonely. It’s such an individual thing. I think the beauty of what we’re able to do, and the privilege we have, is that we can sit with somebody, whatever their fears and worries and concerns are about when they have died, and we can work with them.”

Punt tells me about a family she worked with fairly recently (we have changed some details for the sake of their privacy) where a married man with a son and daughter was told he had a year to live. It was his desperate wife who came to Maggie’s first, recalls Punt. “He was totally in denial and just carrying on as normal and she was trying to sort everything out.”

The husband eventually came for counselling, too. Punt and her colleagues then supported the family in starting a range of conversations. There were finances to discuss, plans for the garden and some decorating that the man had wanted to see through. There was their children’s education, at school and at home. “He wanted to show his son how to shave,” Punt says.

Where appropriate, the children were involved in these conversations. They were given time with an art therapist, who helped them articulate their emotions in a gentle setting. They were given the option of sitting with their father till the end, and they took it.

The man died at home, says Punt, surrounded by his family. “I think the last few hours were not desperately comfortable. But I think it was as good as it could be.”

What will happen to my family after I am gone?

Mandie Malcolm, 32

I had just turned 26 when I discovered a lump on my breast. Because a lump can be any of several things, I wasn’t too worried. What a shock I got when the doctor said it was cancer. Worse, it was secondary cancer: it had spread aggressively. I was told soon after the diagnosis that I probably had a couple of years to live.

It was petrifying. My mum was with me when I got the news, but the worst thing was breaking the news to friends and family. We’re very close, and they’re all supportive, but I knew it must be hard for them as well. I was always thinking about dying and leaving them behind. At the same time, there was so much I still wanted to do, like travelling the world.

Mum started using Maggie’s Edinburgh before I did. When I went myself, I was nervous on the way over, but from the moment I walked in they were all so friendly. Thanks to Maggie’s I’ve had loads of one-to-one counselling sessions and group sessions with other people going through the same as me. I go to yoga classes at the centre, and I’ve had loads of help with my finances. There are horrible, complicated forms to fill out in order to get benefits, but the adviser from Maggie’s helped me with the paperwork and took all the pressure off. My family gets a lot of support, too.

The diagnosis was six years ago and I’m still here. I have managed to get through everything I wanted to do, and now I’m just adding things to the list. After chemotherapy, I had hormone treatment, and because it was easier on my body I was able to do things like visiting Australia. I’ve run a marathon and I’ve been writing a column for my local paper, The Falkirk Herald. After my diagnosis, I thought that I’d never get to plan my own wedding, just my funeral, but I got married last year – it was a really special day.

A lot of people say, “I know what you’re going through”, but they don’t really. Through Maggie’s I’ve made a friend, Leslie, who’s in the exact same position as me, and it’s nice to be able to speak to somebody like her. One of the worst things is that you feel out of control of what’s happening to your body, and that time’s ticking away.

My outlook on life has changed hugely. Because I’ve spent so many days in bed and not feeling great, I really appreciate feeling good. I appreciate every day I’m given and I want to be surrounded by nice people, enjoying life rather than putting things off. Just going for a long walk with my dog is something that means a lot to me.

I’ve had a lot of different treatments and am probably starting to run out of them. Things have been better than the doctors thought, but I’m still realistic. Every extra birthday is special.

Complete Article HERE!

A Comedy About Death

– KnifeRock’s ‘Moon Manor’ Official Trailer


“If I can’t be me – and I mean everything that that means – I just don’t want to be.” Good Deed Ent. has revealed an official trailer for Moon Manor, a “comedy about death” made by the filmmaking duo known as “KnifeRock” (Erin Granat & Elizabeth Brissenden). This first premiered last year at a festival, and will be dropping on VOD starting in March to watch. Today is Jimmy’s last day alive. His Alzheimer’s is worsening, so he’s decided to die like he has lived – with intention, humor, and zest. In his last day on Earth, Jimmy will show an obituary writer, his death doula, his estranged brother, his caretaker, a surreal being, and guests at his fabulous “FUN-eral”, that perhaps the art of living is the art of dying. It’s “inspired by a true-ish story.” The film also marks the first original score by Coldplay producers The Dream Team. Moon Manor stars Jim Carrozo as Jimmy, with Debra Wilson, Richard Riehle, Lou Taylor Pucci, Reshma Gajjar, Galen Howard, Ricki Lake, and Heather Morris. Looks so wacky and fun and clever and fresh! I dig it.

Sometimes learning how to live, is learning how to die. On his last day alive, Jimmy (Jim Carrozo) will show his estranged brother, a salt-of-the-earth caretaker, sharp-witted death doula, an obituary writer, a cosmic being, and the guests at his FUNeral that sometimes the art of living just may be the art of dying. An exploration of what it means to have a “good death” and inspired by the life stories of 84-year-old lead actor James Carrozo. Moon Manor is co-written and co-directed by filmmakers Erin Granat & Machete Bang Bang (aka Elizabeth Brissenden – director on the series “I.R.L.”), collectively known as “KnifeRock”, both making their feature directorial debut after a few short films previously. Produced by John Humber, Bay Dariz, Erin Granat & Machete Bang Bang. Featuring a score by Coldplay producers The Dream Team. This first premiered at the 2021 Atlanta Film & Video Festival last year. Good Deed will debut Moon Manor in select US theaters + on VOD starting March 11th, 2022 coming up soon. Drop by the film’s official site.

Complete Article HERE!

How I helped my mother to have a good death from afar

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Melbourne man V Srikanth had to support his mother in India from afar as she neared the end of her life. This is what he learned.

By V Srikanth

And so when I got the call from my brother-in-law at 4 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon to let us know she had suffered a serious stroke, my brain snapped into clinical gear fairly quickly.

I was in Australia and she was near Bengaluru, and so began the very strange experience of helping my mother through her illness and to have a good death from afar in the middle of a global pandemic.

I was in Australia and she was near Bengaluru, and so began the very strange experience of helping my mother through her illness and to have a good death from afar.

I come from a medical family. I trained to be a physician and a geriatrician and I think I can make very clear decisions. My father, my sister, my brother and my brother-in-law are all doctors too. However, even for us there were many difficult decisions to be made. There were points where we were second-guessing ourselves and questioned whether we were doing the right thing.

In my job I have seen dozens of advanced-care plans. They are a good thing. But even the best advanced-care plans come unstuck. People’s wishes may not always be communicated well, and many families struggle with letting their loved ones go. Some want everything to be done until the very end, but what ‘everything’ is, might be viewed differently by different people. You can’t apply the same advanced-care plan to every scenario. 

Early on my mother briefly regained some consciousness, but shortly thereafter she slipped back into an unconscious state.

I had seen the brain scans, I knew the odds. Neurosurgery was an option, but the likelihood of her surviving it and recovering to live an active life with good quality was extremely low. And Amma was in a large hospital in the middle of the Covid crisis.

My siblings and I decided it would be best to get our mother out of that hospital environment. We were fortunate in that we knew of a small primary care facility where she could have access to nurses and a physician.

What many people don’t know is that a formal system of palliative care is rare in India and is not routinely incorporated into healthcare. In fact, the medications that we use in Australia for palliative care like sedatives and opiates are very tightly regulated in India and not readily available for good palliative care.

I was lucky enough to be able to speak with my colleagues here about the best practices we might use, even if those best practices were not known in India, and provide my siblings with advice. However, we still all had to be on the same page and that is always the tricky part.

When would we stop providing food through a tube? When would we stop giving intravenous fluids? What is the right amount of care to keep someone comfortable but also allow them to die?

If you don’t know about palliative care and have not talked about death, these decisions can be challenging. And they are made harder when you don’t know the patient’s wishes or have a desire to ‘fix’ everything with every option of treatment available, however futile they may be.

With my family it was different. We were in agreement on most things and for the most part we knew what our mother would have wanted us to do. She had held separate conversations with all of us about what she would have expected for herself. And my father, tough as it was for him, also accepted the reality of how Amma was – and trusted us to help him make the right decisions.

And this is what I would say to anyone going through a similar situation. Ask yourself, to the best of your knowledge, how would your relative have wanted to live on the other side of a significant medical intervention when faced with a seriously disabling or terminal illness? Ask the doctors what are all the options and what are the specific likely outcomes of each?

When the time came for my mother it was extremely peaceful, with my family by her side, and no discomfort. She would have been 80 this year, a wonderful person and she was really clear in her mind, always keeping people connected. In many ways, as she always did, she made it easier for us at the end.

Complete Article HERE!

What I Learned About Death From 7 Religious Scholars, 1 Atheist and My Father

By George Yancy

Just a few days before my father died in 2014, I asked him a question some might find insensitive or inappropriate:

“So, what are your thoughts now about dying?”

We were in the hospital. My father had not spoken much at all that day. He was under the influence of painkillers and had begun the active stage of dying.

He mustered all of his energy to give me his answer. “It’s too complex,” he said.

They were his final spoken words to me before he died. I had anticipated something more pensive, something more drawn-out. But they were consistent with our mutual grappling with the meaning of death. Until the very end, he spoke with honesty, courage and wisdom.

I have known many who have taken the mystery out of death through a kind of sociological matter-of-factness: “We all will die at some point. Tell me something I don’t know.” I suspect that many of these same people have also taken the mystery out of being alive, out of the fact that we exist: “But of course I exist; I’m right here, aren’t I?”

Confronting the reality of death and trying to understand its uncanny nature is part of what I do as a philosopher and as a human being. My father, while not a professional philosopher, loved wisdom and had the gift of gab. Our many conversations over the years touched on the existence of God, the meaning of love and, yes, the fact of death.

In retrospect, my father and I refused to allow death to have the final word without first, metaphorically, staring it in the face. We were both rebelling against the ways in which so many hide from facing the fact that consciousness, as we know it, will stop — poof!

We know the fact of death is inescapable, and it has been especially so for the nearly two-year pandemic. As we begin another year, I am astonished again and again to realize that more than 800,000 irreplaceable people have died from Covid-19 in the United States; worldwide, the number is over five million. When we hear about those numbers, it is important that we become attuned to actual deaths, the cessation of millions of consciousnesses, stopped just like that. This is not just about how people have died but also that they have died.

My father and I, like the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, came to view death as “by no means something in general.” We understood that death is about me, him and you. But what we in fact were learning about was dying, not death. Dying is a process; we get to count the days, but for me to die, there is no conscious self who recognizes that I’m gone or that I was even here. So, yes, death, as my father put it, is too complex.

It was in February of 2020 that I wrote the introduction to a series of interviews that I would subsequently conduct for The Times’s philosophy series The Stone, called Conversations on Death, with religious scholars from a variety of faiths. While my initial aim had little to do with grappling with the deaths caused by Covid-19 (like most, I had no idea just how devastating the virus would be), it soon became hard to ignore. As the interviews appeared, I heard from readers who said that reading them helped them cope with their losses during the pandemic. I would like to think that it was partly the probing of the meaning of death, the refusal to look away, that was helpful. What had begun as a philosophical inquiry became a balm for some.

While each scholar articulated a different interpretation of what happens after we die, it was not long before our conversations on death turned to matters of life, on the importance of what we do on this side of the grave. Death is loss, each scholar seemed to say, but it also illuminates and transforms life and serves as a guide for the living.

The Buddhist scholar Dadul Namgyal stressed the importance of letting go of habits of self-obsession and attitudes of self-importance. Moulie Vidas, a scholar of Judaism, placed more emphasis on Judaism’s intellectual and spiritual energy. Karen Teel, a Roman Catholic, emphasized her interest in working toward making our world more just. The Jainism scholar Pankaj Jain underscored that it is on this side of the veil of death that one attempts to completely purify the soul through absolute nonviolence. Brook Ziporyn, a scholar of Taoism, stressed the importance of embracing this life as constant change, being able to let go, of allowing, as he says, every new situation to “deliver to us its own new form as a new good.” Leor Halevi, a historian of Islam, told me that an imam would stress the importance of paying debts, giving to charity and prayer. And Jacob Kehinde Olupona, a scholar of the Yoruba religion, explained that “humans are enjoined to do well in life so that when death eventually comes, one can be remembered for one’s good deeds.” The atheist philosopher Todd May placed importance on seeking to live our lives along two paths simultaneously — both looking forward and living fully in the present.

The sheer variety of these religious insights raised the possibility that there are no absolute answers — the questions are “too complex”— and that life, as William Shakespeare’s Macbeth says, is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Yet there is so much to learn, paradoxically, about what is unknowable.

Perhaps we should think of death in terms of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Just as the blind men who come to know the elephant by touching only certain parts of it, our views of death, religious or not, are limited, marked by context, culture, explicit and implicit metaphysical sensibilities, values and vocabularies. The elephant evades full description. But with death, there doesn’t seem to be anything to touch. There is just the fact that we die.

Yet as human beings, we yearn to make sense of that about which we may not be able to capture in full. In this case, perhaps each religious worldview touches something or is touched by something beyond the grave, something that is beyond our descriptive limits.

Perhaps, for me, it is just too hard to let go, and so I refuse to accept that there is nothing after death. This attachment, which can function as a form of refusal, is familiar to all of us. The recent death of my dear friend bell hooks painfully demonstrates this. Why would I want to let go of our wonderful and caring relationship and our stimulating and witty conversations? I’m reminded, though, that my father’s last words regarding the meaning of death being too complex leave me facing a beautiful question mark.

My father was also a lover of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet.” He would quote sections from it verbatim. I wasn’t there when my father stopped breathing, but I wish that I could have spoken these lines by Gibran as he left us: “And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”

In this past year of profound loss and grief, it is hard to find comfort. No matter how many philosophers or theologians seek the answers, the meaning of death remains a mystery. And yet silence in the face of this mystery is not an option for me, as it wasn’t for my father, perhaps because we know that, while we may find solace in our rituals, it is also in the seeking that we must persist.

Complete Article HERE!

Black-owned hospice seeks to bring greater ease in dying to Black families

André Lee, administrator and co-founder of Heart and Soul Hospice, stands with Keisha Mason, director of nursing, in front of their office building last week in Nashville, Tenn.

By Blake Farmer

This time, it didn’t take much persuading for Mary Murphy to embrace home hospice. When her mother was dying from Alzheimer’s disease in 2020, she had been reluctant until she saw what a help it was. And so when her husband, Willie, neared the end of his life, she embraced hospice again.

The Murphys’ house in a leafy Nashville neighborhood is their happy place — full of their treasures.

“He’s good to me — buys me anything I want,” she says, as she pulls a milky glass vase out of a floor-to-ceiling cabinet with mirrored shelves.

Willie bought Mary the display case to help her to show off all the trinkets she picks up at estate sales.

Down the hall, Willie lies in their bed, now unable to speak. His heart is giving out.

“You gonna wake up for a minute?” she asks as she cradles his head. She pats his back while he clears his throat. “Cough it out.”

Mary has been the primary caregiver for her husband, but she gets help from a new hospice agency in Nashville that is focused on increasing the use of comfort care at the end of life by Black families. Heart and Soul Hospice is owned and operated by people who share the same cultural background as the patients they’re trying to serve.

In their application to obtain a certificate of need in Tennessee, the hospice owners made it clear that they are Black and that they intend to serve everyone but will focus on African Americans, who are currently underserved. Tennessee data show that in Nashville, just 19% of the hospice patients are Black though they make up 27% of the population.

Though the area already had numerous hospice agencies, regulators granted the permission, based primarily on the value of educating an underserved group.

Hospice care helped Mary and Willie Murphy with a few baths a week, medication in the mail, and any medical equipment they needed. And there was the emotional support from a caring nurse.

In Mary Murphy’s first experience with hospice, her mother had suffered from dementia for decades, yet still when transitioning to hospice came up with her mother, Murphy had many concerns. She felt like she was giving up on her mom.

“My first thought was death,” she says.

National data shows Black Medicare patients and their families are not making the move to comfort care as often as white patients are. Roughly 41% of Black Medicare beneficiaries who died in 2019 were enrolled in hospice, compared with white patients for whom the figure is 54%, according to data compiled annually by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Murphy’s mother survived nearly three years on hospice. The benefit is meant for those in the last six months of life, but predicting when the end will come is difficult, especially with dementia. Hospice provides palliative care for the dying and support for caregivers for a long as the process lasts.

Murphy did most of the caregiving — which can be overwhelming — but hospice helped with a few baths a week, medication in the mail and any medical equipment they needed.

And most important to Murphy was the emotional support, which came mostly from her hospice nurse.

“Wasn’t no doctor going to come here, hold my hand, stay here until the funeral home came for her,” she says about the day her mother died.

This year, on the day after Thanksgiving, Willie Murphy died. And the same hospice nurse was at the Murphy home within minutes. She’d already stopped by that morning to check on him and returned as soon as Mary called and told her he wasn’t breathing.

“If you don’t feel like, ‘Oh my God, thank God I have hospice,’ if you can’t say that, then we’re doing something wrong,” says Keisha Mason, who is Heart and Soul’s director of nursing.

Mason, like Murphy, is Black and says that in her view, there’s nothing fundamental keeping Black patients from using hospice except learning what the service can offer and that it’s basically free to patients — paid for by Medicare, Medicaid and most private health plans.

“I say to them, ‘If you see a bill, then call us, because you should not,’ ” she says.

As Mason has helped launch this new hospice agency, she’s begun using new language, calling hospice more than a Medicare benefit. She describes it as an entitlement.

“Just as you are entitled to unemployment, as you are entitled to Social Security, you are entitled to a hospice benefit,” she says.

The investors in Heart and Soul include David Turner, owner of CNS Hospice in Detroit, Nashville pastor the Rev. Sandy McClain, and André Lee, who is a former hospital administrator on the campus of Nashville’s Meharry Medical College, a historically Black institution.

Lee and Turner also started a Black-focused hospice agency in Michigan and have plans to replicate the model in other states.

Lee says more families need to consider home hospice as an alternative for end-of-life care. Nursing homes are pricey. And even with Medicare, a hospital bill could be hefty.

“You’ll go in there and they’ll eat you alive,” he says. “I hate to say [something] bad about hospitals, but it’s true.”

Hospice research hasn’t come up with clear reasons why there’s a gap between white and Black families’ use of the benefit. Some speculate it’s related to spiritual beliefs and widespread mistrust in the medical system due to decades of discrimination.

The hospice industry’s national trade group, the NHCPO, released a diversity and inclusion toolkit and a guide for how to reach more Black patients this year. It recommends connecting with influential DJs and partnering with Black pastors. But also just hiring more Black nurses.

Lee says it’s not overly complicated.

“A lot of hospices don’t employ enough Black people,” he says. “We all feel comfortable when you see someone over there that looks like you.”

Well-established hospice agencies have been attempting to minimize any barriers with their own diversity initiatives. Michelle Drayton of Visiting Nurse Service of New York says her large agency has been meeting with ministers who counsel families dealing with failing health.

“Many of them did not fully understand what hospice was,” she says. “They had many of the same sort of misperceptions.”

Whether it’s an upstart hospice company or one of the oldest in the country, everyone still has a lot of end-of-life educating to do to bridge the racial gap, Drayton says. “We’re not just handing out a brochure,” she adds.

Complete Article HERE!

Joan Didion Wrote About Grief Like No One Else Could

On a patio deck overlooking the ocean, Quintana Roo Dunne leans on a railing with her parents, writers John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion, in Malibu, Calif., 1976.

By Annabel Gutterman

Joan Didion made sense of the world through words. She was known for them: her cool, exacting prose; her sentences, smooth and spare. But in the aftermath of her husband’s fatal heart attack in 2003, her relationship with words changed. “This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning,” she wrote in her 2005 memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking. “This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself.”

Didion, who died on Dec. 23 at 87, was the author of five novels, several works of nonfiction including Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album, screenplays and more. She was a prolific storyteller who ushered in a new style of journalism, combining research and lyrical imagery with cutting moments of humor. In the foreword of the last book she published before her death, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, writer Hilton Als described Didion as “a carver of words in the granite of the specific.” She both dissected the ordinariness of the everyday for its complexities, and broke down the most foreign of situations into familiar, accessible parts. Crucially, Didion also explored the language we use to process loss, and the limitations of that language. Now, as the world mourns her death, we look to her own words for both guidance and solace.

“Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life,” Didion wrote in The Year of Magical Thinking. The book, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, chronicled the process of grieving the death of her husband and most trusted collaborator, the writer John Gregory Dunne, a little over a month before their 40th wedding anniversary. (Dunne was writing for TIME when they first met.) When Dunne died, the couple’s adopted daughter, Quintana, was unconscious in the ICU, suffering from pneumonia and septic shock. Didion’s experience with loss continued: A little over a year and a half after Dunne’s death, Quintana died at age 39. The writer examined that second excruciating loss in her 2011 memoir, Blue Nights, detailing a new kind of grief while crafting an aching examination of mortality and aging.

“This book is called ‘Blue Nights’ because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness,” she wrote. “Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.”

Joan Didion, circa 1977

Though both books were rooted in Didion’s agonizing personal tragedies, they were not ones of self-pity or despair. Instead, they sought to understand how memory informs grief and how death shapes life. The title of The Year of Magical Thinking comes from Didion’s experiences reckoning with the finality of death, and the disillusion that exists in its aftermath. In one poignant scene, Didion becomes fixated on her husband’s shoes while going through his clothes.

“I could not give away the rest of his shoes. I stood there for a moment, then realized why: he would need shoes if he was to return. The recognition of this thought by no means eradicated the thought. I have still not tried to determine (say, by giving away the shoes) if the thought has lost its power.”

Didion detailed how she would convince herself that she could bring her husband back, even though she was well aware he was gone. “Magical Thinking is an act of consummate literary bravery, a writer known for her clarity narrating the loss of that clarity, allowing us to watch her mind as it becomes clouded with grief,” the author Lev Grossman wrote in a review for TIME in 2005. “But the book also reproduces, in its formal progression from those first raw, frenzied impressions to a more composed account of mourning, Didion’s recovery. She literally wrote herself back to sanity.”

The Year of Magical Thinking was Didion’s 13th book. She finished it in 88 days during the year after Dunne’s death. It was the first time in 40 years that Didion did not receive feedback from Dunne on a writing project. Although she wrote the book quickly, she said it was difficult for her to finish because the book “maintained a connection with him.

Often described as a companion piece to that book, Blue Nights is another gutting look at a writer grasping for words to describe a loss—this time, of a beloved child. While just as candid as its predecessor, Blue Nights is a more raw exploration of grief, less polished in its structure, with Didion moving between fragmented memories. These range from the scenes of Quintana’s adoption and her reunion with her birth family to Quintana losing a tooth as a child. In Blue Nights, the magical thinking that once consumed Didion is gone, instead replaced with her reflections on memory and rumination on growing older and the ways her daughter’s death made her face her own mortality. “When I started writing, I thought it was going to be about attitudes to raising children,” Didion told The Guardian. “Then it became clear to me that, willy-nilly, it was going to be personal. I can’t imagine what I thought it was going to be, if it wasn’t personal.”

The raw emotional weight of both The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights provided an unflinching look inside Didion’s otherwise steely, sophisticated exterior. In letting her guard down, she allowed readers into her grieving process—and provided a roadmap for others navigating their own pain. “I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us,” Didion wrote in The Year of Magical Thinking. “I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.”

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An ice cream man died of cancer.

A funeral procession of ice cream trucks honored ‘the king.’

Hassan Dervish, above, was lauded by his brother as a “really honest and hard-working person” for his decades of work as an ice-cream vendor in England.

By Timothy Bella

Savash Turkel was among a small group of family and friends who showed up on a dreary Friday morning in southeast London to bury his brother, Hassan Dervish, an ice cream man for more than 40 years who recently died of cancer.

But something was different about this December funeral procession, Turkel told The Washington Post: The jingles from ice cream trucks, driven by colleagues who knew and admired Dervish, flooded the streets in memory of a 62-year-old man hailed by loved ones as the “king of the ice cream.”

“The first one came and then there was another and then there was another,” said Turkel, 57. “All of a sudden, there were probably 10 ice cream trucks that followed him all the way to the cemetery. There were so many ice cream trucks for my brother.”

The moment with the 10 ice cream trucks was captured in an emotional video posted to Twitter that’s been viewed more than 10 million times as of Saturday afternoon.

“Just witnessed an ice cream man’s funeral and all the ice cream vans came and followed in solidarity,” tweeted Louisa Davies, the woman who posted the viral video. “I AM SOBBING.”

As observers pointed out on social media, the procession for Dervish follows in the tradition of ice cream vendors honoring fallen colleagues at their funerals in the United Kingdom. In February, 10 trucks gathered to celebrate the life of Pasquale Marucci, a popular, Italian-born ice cream man in Hampshire, England, according to the BBC. A similar funeral procession unfolded in July for John Lennie, who served generations of customers in Wimborne Minster, England.

After growing up in Cyprus with a tailor for a father and stay-at-home mother, Dervish emigrated to the U.K. in his early 20s, Turkel said. The brother noted how Dervish, one of four siblings in the family, had always loved ice cream and was curious about what life would be like to bring smiles to so many people.

“He was in the ice cream trade for all of his life,” he said.

After arriving around 1980, Dervish made a good life for himself in southeast London, Turkel said, and later married and had two children. His ice cream dreams had also become a reality, setting up an ice cream factory in the Lewisham neighborhood in the early 2000s.

From the time he started serving ice cream in the area, Dervish wanted to not just be a friendly face with sweet treats but also someone who gave back to his family and friends, his brother told The Post.

“He was passionate about the work he was doing. He was always helping out all his friends. He helped them all out,” Turkel said. “That’s why so many people loved him. My brother was a really honest and hard-working person.”

His health, however, took a turn for the worse around 2019, after he was diagnosed with a cancer that weakened him tremendously, Turkel said.

“The last two years, he was suffering,” his brother recalled. “He was taking all the treatments and everything.”

Dervish died on Nov. 12, his brother said, after fighting Stage 4 cancer that had “spread all throughout his body.”

“He couldn’t survive it, unfortunately,” Turkel told The Post.

When the funeral was scheduled more than a month later, coronavirus safety restrictions limited the number of people who could come for the Friday ceremony, the brother said.

That’s when the jingles from the ice cream trucks — Mr. Softee, Akan’s Soft Ice Cream, Mister Creamy — became the soundtrack for Dervish’s funeral.

Even though not as many people were at the funeral because of safety precautions, the presence of the ice cream vendor community at the procession left Turkel speechless.

“What can I say?” he said. “All of his friends, they came to pay their last respects to him.”

Videos of the funeral procession have gotten a huge reaction on social media, with many people admiring the sadness and beauty of the tribute. Davies, whose video has reached millions, tweeted that any money made off the video would be donated to a charity of Dervish’s family’s choice.

Ismail Mehmet, who said he was at Dervish’s funeral, captured a video of the ice cream trucks as they pulled into the cemetery.

“I’m amazed how much of an impact it has had to the area,” Mehmet wrote.

Turkel said that while his brother’s family and friends are emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed by the millions who’ve responded to the sweet procession, they are grateful that many more can see how Dervish was “a friend to everyone.”

“He touched so many hearts in so many ways,” Turkel said. “It makes me so proud of him.”

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