Faith, Care and End of Life – Rubbing Along Together

Since the New Year, both my maternal grandmother and grandfather have passed away. It was not a sudden or unexpected thing and in many ways I believe there was a relief with them passing. I have to commend my mum and uncle for their relentless care and the navigation of our confused and unintegrated health and social care system. This confusion in relation to End of Life is all too common as colleagues at NCPC tell me. The situation we faced was getting the correct pain relief at the right time, even with a number of agencies involved, with qualified and specialised health professionals, it was often my uncle who had to run around to collect the drugs and get prescriptions signed off.

Both my Nan and Granddad were cared for at home and were able to die there. ‘Out of hospital care’ is a key focus of the Department of Health and NHS England at the moment and we know that home based care can be cheaper and is often what patients want. We have some way to go in getting this part of our health system right. However, care at home made things easier as a family to visit and to play our part.

Towards the end, as their care become more specialised there was less that I could find to do. At times my visits were short, as I knew they were tired or trying to sleep. But this is where faith gave me a different edge. Both my grand-parents were people of faith, up until quite recently still leading a small church in Dagenham. So our faith was something we had in common. I decided early on whenever I visited my Granddad that I would pray with him, even though often it seemed that he wasn’t awake.

My Nan was pretty much up and running until just before Christmas. Her decline was much quicker and she died in early February. She has always been a strong and independent woman, so I was surprised, in those final days, when she asked me to rub the back of her neck. She had told my Mum that touch was a comfort. As I was rubbing her neck I told her of Lord Nelson’s last words “Drink, drink. Fan, fan. Rub, rub.” The rubbing being a natural form of pain relief, at which point my Nan said – “it doesn’t cost anything either!” Even in her pained state she was keen to find a bargain!

It struck me that these two key activities, touch and prayer, are symbolic and an outworking of our humanity and spirituality. They brought both the ‘cared for’ and the ‘carer’ comfort and connection. It would have been too easy to retreat and not do anything, not even to visit. From a medical perspective, there was nothing of any use I could do, there was nothing I could give to this situation. I was just getting in the way. But it did not feel that way. Caring after all is a state of heart, not merely a list of actions. By holding a hand, praying or sitting together there was a part I had to play and by extension I think there is something that we can all do.

My Granddad’s final words to me came after I had prayed with him, – I thought he wasn’t really conscious but then my mum and I heard him say ‘Thank you’ – it was the same gruff thanks I remember whenever I gave him presents at Christmas time as a child. I have to confess it was a moment to shed and happy sad tear. He had been aware, had appreciated my small action, and was resting again.

So it would seem that my faith gave something to him as well as giving me a purpose I didn’t feel I had.

This piece is written in to mark the life of serving and faith of Len & Elsie Halls.