Reflecting on death as a friend of life

 

New growth through dead leaves
New growth through dead leaves

Jenny Mackness wrote a beautiful blog post Death is a friend of life on her return from a 4 day course with Ian McGilchrist that explores the divided brain.

But Iain McGilchrist’s view is that life is literally on its way out in relation to the way in which we live our lives and behave as social animals in today’s society. Birth, sex, the body and death are all suffering.  Jenny’s post

Jenny’s own mother died recently and she says she hoped that this attendance on the course would provide some thinking space on this bereavement.

I have been profoundly moved by Jenny’s post and it got me thinking about my own experiences of death. My first significant bereavement experience was at 17 when my father died suddenly of a heart attack after returning from a walk. He was retired and when he died, I had been off school for four months with an illness that wasn’t life-threatening but required surgery (a few weeks after he died).  During this time we got know one another even better, talking about ‘adult’ topics like the General Election that was held that year. After his death, this time provided many precious memories. The way I became aware of his death was my mother coming downstairs and asking me to phone for the priest (to give my father the Last Rites). I was shocked by my mother’s request and asked if I shouldn’t call an ambulance first. She asked me to first phone the priest and then phone for the doctor. Knowing he was dead, she rejected the drama of the ambulance, and attended to his and her spiritual needs first.

Next, I thought of the only two deaths at which I have been present. In 1981, I found out, relatively late in my pregnancy, that I was expecting 2 babies, one of whom would die before or shortly after birth:  I have described the background in this post. I had 8 weeks to come to terms with the idea that I was carrying a baby I hadn’t known about and wouldn’t know for very long. I was very relieved that my baby Martin lived to be born so we could love him and say hello and goodbye to him. The unexpected event was the discovery that both twins had cleft lip and palates, and I spent the next four days coming to terms with what this meant practically in terms of feeding and in future surgery and treatment for the twin who lived. I very soon realised that Martin’s brief life and death really helped me to come to terms with his twin’s less serious condition. Martin had no aggressive medical intervention and I can honestly say that I regard being with him while he died to be a privilege. This was helped by the lovely agency nurse who cared for us all and allowed us to acknowledge his death when it happened.

I was also present at the death of one of my brothers a few years ago. He had a heart attack, was resuscitated and put on life support but tests revealed that he had suffered brain death. It was a terrible shock to his family and all of us, and I was privileged to be invited to be present when he died.

When I read what Jenny said about death, it chimed with my experience of my brother’s death surrounded by machines.  They can intrude, I think- tolerable when saving a life but out of place in a death that is inevitable.

Now death is often surrounded by machines. Unlike elephants and other animals who know how to mourn death (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/elephants-mourning-video-animal-grief/), Iain McGilchrist believes that we no longer honour the reality of coming face-to-face with death, as we did in the past. Elephants seem to know and understand the reality of death.  Jenny’s post

We hear about the sad cases of decisions on babies’ life support when they come to court.  We don’t know how the medical staff and parents got to that point and it would be difficult to lay down rules I think.  In an earlier draft of the this post I wrote “The less said about the obstetrician the better” but on reflection, I want to say more about the role of medical professionals in my experiences of death. I was, I think, fortunate that at my 30 week hospital  check-up when the midwife detected more body parts than would be indicated by a single foetus, my double-barrelled name consultant was on holiday. The alternative consultant who supervised my scan gently helped me understand that though I would actually give birth to two babies, I would only go home with the one I had expected all along. In subsequent appointments , Mr double- barrelled name was reluctant to talk through the process of  Martin’s likely life and death – it seemed to make him uncomfortable.  He met me in the corridor after the twins were born, and spluttered something about ‘babies like that’ being put on ventilators in Liverpool, not something that I had ever requested.  I was fortunate in already knowing and trusting the paediatrician caring for my twins, from her care of my first son, whose life was saved with a ventilator. It must be very difficult for medical staff to predict outcomes when a baby is born with a disease that reveals itself later, and life support may be given then turn out not to be in the best interests of the child. Parents will naturally and rightly want their child to have the best life possible and it may be very difficult to relinquish hope.  Obviously, everyone wants to strive to heal a sick baby, but when healing is not possible, then quality of life becomes paramount.  I really believe that the dignified life and death that Martin and we experienced is a beautiful thing but it was fragile and depended on enough of the right people being around.

In the case of my father’s death, my mother chose to avoid the medicalisation of my father’s death by not calling for an ambulance.  Our GP arrived and certified my father’s death (though the Coroner’s office was later involved) without the need for him to be transported to hospital and medicalised in death.

How can death can be as good as it possibly can be in medical contexts?

There is a heroic narrative present in medical care that can get in the way of the humanity and trust needed for families and medical staff to act and make decisions on the care of the sick and disabled. Reading Jenny’s post, and reflecting on our experiences, it seems to me that not only can death be a friend to life but life can also be a friend to death.

Open by Accident

In 1996, I was lecturing in Information Systems in the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences at University of Salford.  A colleague ran a Lotus Notes Server (under his desk as I recall) that hosted a Student Information System – and I had an account on the server for that reason.

And then – Lotus released the Domino server  that transformed from just a Notes server to become an Interactive Web server ! What was posted on a Notes Server could be shared on the Web.

Wow!

I had looked enviously at Universities that offered tilde Web spaces for staff and sometimes students, but had no idea how I could persuade IT Services, or learn HTML alongside all my other commitments.

But now, I had a user account that enabled me to create Lotus Notes databases that would allow students to access and engage with what I published on a MS Office template database. So I just uploaded Word and Powerpoint documents to Lotus Notes, and there they were – on the Web. OK so the urls were a nightmare, but I was sharing course resources openly.  And I could sync the databases to my home computer, reducing my dialup charges.

My intention was that students could access resources but I soon realised that other educators were finding my stuff, and contacting me. This encouraged me in different ways: I adopted a more scholarly approach to citation/referencing in slideshows; and I was able to share resources as my network increased. Later, a colleague who joined us from another university told me how much she valued my stuff and we worked to create new web materials together when we team taught a large module.

I had also discovered the Notes Discussion template, and realised that I could set up Discussion spaces for students (and invite others) where they could have conversations that were shared but not in the public domain.

And then, an institutional reorganisation happened and I lost access to the Lotus Notes server and had to learn HTML in a month but that’s another story !

This is a bricolage story for #101openstories. Find out more and share your open story at https://101openstories.wordpress.com/welcome/

Starting our Adventure

dh Terry and I have started our month-long trip in Max Headroom to Netherlands, Germany, Denmark (briefly ), ferry to Iceland (for 2 weeks), Faroes (3 days). It’s all very exciting. The highlight of our trip is visiting family but I know we’ll have many adventures along the way.

We left our rainy and overgrown garden at lunchtime today (elephant garlic growing strongly in foreground and Viburnum Plicatum Mariesii blossoming away to the right).

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Garden -rainy and a bit weedy

Our journey to Hull was fairly good and Terry reversed Max Headroom into place next to 2 huge containers.

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Max Headroom in place on ferry

We headed on up to our cabin -cosy!

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We are now having a beer in the bar waiting to depart Hull. We are looking forward to a nice meal in the restaurant and will disembark at Rotterdam tomorrow morning.

This is the first blog post l have ever written with a stylus on my phone so I’m hoping it looks OK.

Welcome to Frances Bell – home at last for all the mes

How I got here

I started blogging in 2006 with Elgg and moved to my own hosted site at francesbell.com when elgg.net disappeared, but with enough warning for me to back up. All was well for 5 years, except that I wasn’t good at backing up and my ISP was a crook. One day, my blog disappeared and I felt bereaved – 5 years of blogging gone, and I still miss those posts.

I started again at francesbell.wordpress.com my temporary resting place where I felt my posts were safe and it’s been really difficult to pluck up the courage to return to francesbell.com. It’s only joining Reclaim Hosting that’s given me the confidence to make this step, and I have taken quite some time to make this site live.

The mes that are here

When I started blogging, my posts reflected my professional interests but since retiring, the balance of my life has changed.  For the first year of my retirement, I was not sure that I wanted to do anything more than spend time on knitting, sewing, gardening and visiting new places but since then and being treated for underactive thyroid, I have combined those with an identity that I saw once on a conference badge, itinerant scholar, that nicely captures my institution-free status. I was thinking about my changing identity in January 2013 before I retired and again in January 2015 when I asked my network for help in how to perform the multiple mes here at francesbell.com. So thanks to Catherine Cronin, Kate Bowles, Pat Thomson, Bon Stewart, Doug Belshaw and Donald Clark who helped me think through what to do in conversations like this one.

 

At last, with great help from Jim Groom and the crew at Reclaim Hosting, I have made a start (there is more to come). So you can have any or all of the mes: slices of the blog or the whole pie; knitting pictures or academic outputs.

All that I have learned from being and working in technology and education is still with me but what has changed is my perspective.  I am now looking at the education system from the outside while experiencing learning and technology from the inside.  What grabs my attention are the (im)possibilities of learning and being on the web in the whole of life. The change of perspective has been quite a revelation for me.

Failing gently but travelling hopefully at #western106 #ds106

Confession time:

This is the second time I have tried to join in with a DS106 class and it’s not going much better than the first time when I sank without trace. I have tried to follow the guidance but am not doing very well at ‘keeping up’.

  • I am determined not to be downbeat about this and I have some great contacts like Mariana Funes on whom I can call so I’ll try to count up:
  • I did the ‘red still life’ daily create after I saw Jeffrey Keefers but I think I was a day late

Red Still Life from objects in Frances' kitchen

Red Still Life from objects in Frances’ kitchen

  • I wrote a blog post linking Bowie to cowboys on the day of his death but then didn’t know how to connect it to #western106 #ds106.
  • I joined in with a #ds106 radio but was quite late so got l got little from it.

So what can I do now?

  • I can recognise that I can’t do ‘daily stuff’ – that doesn’t fit with my life style
  • I can ask ask my friends for help
  • I can focus on a single goal – mine is to learn to make a GIF from videos

Now I can share with you my flaky progress on that goal. I feel a bit ambivalent about Westerns (apart from Blazing Saddles). One of the issues I have with the genre is that women don’t always get a great deal in Westerns.  My idea from recollecting a John Wayne film where he spanked a woman so I thought I could do a ‘critical’ GIF on this topic.

Imagine my horror when I searched youtube and found that ‘spanking women’ was a common trope in Westerns. I think that this is the one I recalled but take my advice – don’t read the youtube comments.  Even worse, there is a spanking scene in the Big Bang Theory.

So that’s it, I now to learn to GIF to critique this trope. All help (except spanking) welcome to save us from a clear line from westerns to 50 Shades of Grey.

 

Elise’s Christmas Soup

Elise is on the right
Elise is on the right – looking fab!

My dear mother Elise Crampsey (later Richardson) 1916-1990 was named Elizabeth (a family name) that was adapted to a French variant in recognition of what was happening in France in 1916 around the time of her birth in Grangemouth, Scotland. She was the oldest of 7 children born into in a working class family whose father, Francis Crampsey, died of pneumonia (in the days before penicillin)  when she was 14 and her youngest sibling was a toddler. Her mother, Margaret, knew how to feed a family well on a very limited budget, and passed on these skills to her daughters, at least, and many of her descendants, male and female, are and have been excellent cooks – what a legacy!

Two things I learned from my mother’s cooking was the value of ingredients, and the importance of what you did with them. In the 1960s, as we travelled in Europe and extended our repertoire of menus, she sought out new recipes and ingredients. Despite the appearance of more exotic dishes, a Christmas staple persisted – the soup from the turkey carcass, because my mother who started her family during WW2 wasted little or nothing.  As soon as the turkey was stripped, the carcass was put in the pressure cooker to make the richest stock of the year, and on Boxing Day or the next day, the soup was made.

Now I can’t say that this recipe was exactly from my mother’s childhood (it was never written down) but it’s my recollection of what she made in her later years and it tastes lovely. My version includes stock from a ham that my son Tom cooked on Christmas Day (for his next family destination) but it doesn’t really matter.  As long as you have some of the turkey stock, you can make up the volume with water to match the vegetables you have. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, just cook it for longer on the hob in an ordinary pan.

First step – Making the stock

Put the turkey carcass and any left over veg (but not the gravy, save that for other leftover meals) in the pressure cooker and cover with water. Bring to pressure and cook for 30 minutes (cook for longer if you don’t have a pressure cooker).  Drain and leave to cool. It will form a sort of jelly with what Elise called a ‘lid’ of fat. Remove this lid with a fish slice – it will scrape off.

Making the Soup

The soup
The soup

Ingredients

3 leeks
3 carrots or more if they are skimpy
3 celery stalks
Turkey/Ham stock made up with water to cover contents of pan
1 or 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
2 handfuls of long grain rice
salt/pepper (to taste)

Method

Sweat the chopped leek, carrots and celery in a little oil for 15 minutes. Then add the stock, tomatoes and rice with a bit of salt/pepper. Bring to to pressure in pressure cooker and cook for 15 minutes, or maybe an hour in an ordinary pot. The rice should have exploded into a curl.  This is not essential – it will taste delicious and may need a little more seasoning.

See the curl of the rice
See the curl of the rice

Enjoy!

Measuring and Correction

my first task at quilting class
Log Cabin – my first task at quilting class

I attended my first quilting class today at the Quilting Box and this is what I achieved. I have done some quilting over the years, and been quite pleased with what I have achieved but I knew I had a lot more to learn – I just didn’t quite know what. Textile crafts have so much to tell us about learning in general.

I joined an ongoing class where participants make a series of 12 inch squares, each one from a different quilting pattern.  It was social and inspiring to see what others had achieved.  I started with log cabin that I had done many years ago.  Prior to the class, I had chosen fabrics to use for this square and subsequent ones in my quilt.

Violet's quilt in progress
Violet’s quilt in progress

Something I have learned from my recent baby quilt projects that are all about colour and fabric, was to be bold in choosing fabrics to go next to each other. Other people at the class commented on the strong colours I had chosen and liked the finished effect.

 

I brought my own sewing machine and bits and pieces to class but I did encounter some new technology – a square transparent ruler that helped me measure what I had done, a sewing machine foot that helped  me make 1/4 inch seams and flat-headed pins to mark places where I had gone wrong. But what I really learned from dear Edna, the teacher, was how to make a perfect 12 inch square by measuring and correction. So I measured and cut the fabric pieces and sewed the seams as accurately as I could, and then Edna showed me how to press and measure at each second round so that errors could be marked with a flat headed pin and corrected on the next seam.

The measuring was under my control, for improvement not for a final judgement, and Edna was around for advice.  That gave me the confidence to achieve a 12 inch square, knowing that I can also apply the measuring/correction technique to other projects. And I was delighted with the finished effect of the fabric combination. So checking, measuring and correcting are all part of learning, with a teacher to support learners’ development of confidence and resilience in a social setting with other learners. Even things that can’t be measured such as choosing fabric combinations are learned by individuals in social settings.

Libraries in my life

I have always loved libraries. The first one that I remember is Withington Library from when I lived in Withington in Manchester as a child. It’s great to see it is still there and operating as a community hub.

When we moved to Middlesbrough, I became very excited that I could join two different libraries and double the number of books I could borrow.  I longed to be 12 so that I could join the adult library.

Middlesbrough Central Reference Library by https://www.flickr.com/photos/deargdoom57/ CC BY 2.0
Middlesbrough Central Reference Library by https://www.flickr.com/photos/deargdoom57/ CC BY 2.0

The first floor reference library looks pretty much as I remember it though we didn’t have bands performing there back in the day.

Funnily enough, university libraries tend not to be among my favourites even though I know how important they are for resources and as study venues for students.

Manchester has two beautiful libraries in the city centre, each of which has had a facelift in recent years.   John Rylands Library was built by Enriqueta Rylands as a memorial to her late husband (Manchester’s first multi-millionaire) and opened on the first day of the 20th Century.

John Rylands Library
John Rylands Library

It feels like a cross between a museum and a church and, as well as offering archives and services for librarians and researchers, it has a reading room that offers a truly lovely workspace that I worked in last week .  The silence is almost loud.

Manchester’s Central Library reopened recently and I have visited it twice but feel that I have only just scraped the surface.
new entrance to Manchester Central Library
It has a spectacular new entrance that connects it to the Town hall, with a dimpled reflective ceiling that throws off dynamic and fractured images. The cafe is in the heart of the ground floor right next to  interactive multimedia resources that offer a way into physical archives at various Manchester libraries.The ground floor offers connected social spaces that open into each other. On my first visit, I could hear a performance for the Manchester Jazz festival across the other side of the building.

So let’s celebrate public libraries and defend them from funding cuts.  We still need public spaces where people can learn independently with guidance from librarians.

Screen shot from Google Books
Screen shot from Google Books

They are as important now as they were at the time that Roberts (1971) wrote about in his classic work about Salford slums in the early 20th Century.

Roberts, R. (1971). The classic slum: Salford life in the first quarter of the century. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

A wee poem – The Voyeur

Tonight, I was feeling like I needed a wee rest from my desperate attempt to complete the paper from hell, and I plucked a book of poetry fom the shelves to give me a different perspective.

Here’s what I found

Lovely wee dog
A wee dog by Iain Smith CC BY-ND 2.0

The Voyeur

by Tom Leonard

what’s your favourite word dearie
is it wee
I hope it’s wee
wee’s such a nice wee word
like a wee hairy dog
with two wee eyes
such a nice wee word to play with dearie
you can say it quickly
with a wee smile
and a wee glance to the side
or you can say it slowly dearie
with your mouth a wee bit open
and a wee sigh dearie
A wee sigh
put your wee head on my shoulder dearie
oh my
a great wee word
and scottish
it makes me proud.