Three years ago, I was working for Marie Curie Cancer Care, an eye-opening experience professionally and personally. I went on to support the NHS end-of-life care programme, and gave my free time to the Dying Matters Coalition.
Having lost my mother a few years earlier to breast cancer, and my father some years back to leukaemia, I carried memories of the bitter-sweet end of their remarkable lives. Parents I loved, whom I found to be most generous and supportive, yet difficult and often a mystery, both survivors of the Second World War, losing their homes and much of their family in war-torn Poland, and choosing the UK as their new homeland.
Marie Curie Cancer Care brought me into contact with great nurses who spend their lives supporting patients who have terminal illness. And it focused my mind on this strange paradox in modern Western society: we are blessed to live longer (on the whole), yet this means that more of us will die of a terminal illness. So getting real about dying is a way to get positive about it. Because we can plan, we can discuss our wishes with our loved ones while we and they have the space – and time- to weigh up the options.
If the 21st century brings us any comfort, as well as the usual joys and sufferings of living, it will be a greater personal and collective mindfulness of what it is to live, and die, well.
This article I wrote for The Guardian three years ago, in my capacity as Chairman of Liberal Judaism, still applies.
Lucian J Hudson on death and dying in The Guardian:
“The time has come to ‘out’ death and dying”, writes Liberal Judaism’s Chairman, Lucian J Hudson, in a piece published in The Guardian on Saturday 6th March, 2010. Lucian’s call comes after Liberal Judaism joined the national Dying Matters Coalition, a project of the National Council for Palliative Care. Dying Matters aims to make a good death the norm by encouraging people not to leave the issue of death till the last minute, but to make plans and discuss them with their friends, loved ones and carers. You can read the article online