The following is the text of the address given by our Chief Executive Dr Donald Macaskill as he opened the Scottish Care Palliative Care event, ‘Trees that bend in the wind.’ in Glasgow on the 8th February.
Welcome to The Trees that bend in the wind… the Scottish Care Frontline Worker Event on Palliative Care.
Death happens to us all. It is a journey whose steps we each of us will make in our own way, at our own pace, and in our own time; it will for some of us be a journey which is a long one with all the emotions, energy, and fears and tears that a parting brings; for others it will be short, painfully brief, leaving us breathless with regret, with hopes unmet and tasks unfulfilled.
That journey at the end of life will happen at a time beyond our calculation or design; whether in the depth of winter’s cold or the tiredness of an uncomfortable summer it has a season of its own time. For some it will be heralded by progressive illness and decline, for others its suddenness will take our living breath away.
For many people today around Scotland they will make that journey and take these steps, in the company of others; their families, friends partners and lovers – who will sit with them and walk with them, carry them and support them.
For countless hundreds the last few weeks and months of life will be accompanied by someone who entered into their life as a stranger, became a companion and often towards the end becomes a friend.
It is those individuals, the undervalued, unrecognised thousands of frontline carers in care homes, in homecare and housing support services whose contribution to giving our fellow Scots a good death we are here to value, to learn from and be inspired by.
It is they who somewhere in a quiet house at the bottom of a glen will be the worker who this morning shares a moment of laughter which distracts from the loneliness of absence;
It is they who in a high rise flat are giving companionship and a listening ear to someone who never gets out anymore and probably won’t leave their home until they die;
It is they who in a suburban, very ordinary street, are the worker who today right now is holding someone’s hand as they tremble with emotion and upset;
They are the worker who brushes the hair and dries up the tears of the woman in the room in the care home that has become their home showing that touch is often more important than talk;
It is these workers who when folks are on their end of life journey and stumble in uncertainty and fear, in pain and distress – it is they who give the strength to find direction and carry on; it is these workers who spot the subtle signs of conditions changing, a new path starting and a final stage dawning.
Today we are indeed here to celebrate these workers, to hear their stories, but we are also here to be challenged by their words and experiences.
Because we have not always valued these workers or their contribution; we have not always resourced them so that they feel more confident and skilled;
Indeed we have through some of our practices served to place very real obstacles in their path as they have sought to bring solace and give comfort to others at the end of their life’s journey.
So in the midst of the stories you hear this morning, do not just listen to the words of dedication and professionalism; give space in your listening and your response to the challenge and to the call to do things differently and better.
This morning is part of a bigger piece of work we have started here at Scottish Care on palliative and end of life care. We hope that our call in this report for a National Conversation on Dying will encourage our fellow Scots to challenge the silence, which adds to the loneliness of our final steps.
For whilst the ending of our life will always be a journey which no-one else can make for us, we can become much better as a nation at being there, being with, at talking, consoling and holding.