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Sacred Act of Hospicing the Dying

by Sarah Whiteley on June 30, 2011

I was privileged to know Tony Scordialos, father of Anna, Stella and Maria.

I was even more privileged to be part of his care, in the final years of his life.  He had multiple and conflicting life-threatening health issues that required the skills of a number of specialist physicians to come to his aid.  In essence, they all clearly worked for the good of Kyrie (Mr) Tony – yet, they worked in medical ‘silos’ – and so their diagnoses were mainly coherent, yet sometimes disturbingly conflicting – sometimes one exacerbating the issues for another doctor to attend to – and certainly for the patient health as a whole.

One particular morning, to the family’s utter distress, two doctor’s debated heatedly how they should proceed across the bed of the increasingly distressed patient.  The family demanded that them to leave – and to continue their discussion outside.   The sacred space of care and hospicing was being violated and needed protection.

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Conflicting diagnoses are clearly at play in the economic arena of our world – even at present, ‘over the bed of the patient’.  Specialists from the different ‘health departments’ are offering their expert opinion – giving recommendations to how the system should be brought into balance.

Part of the issue is that some experts believe the system should be brought back to life – fed with drugs and measures that to some see as utterly ludicrous to contemplate, let alone administer – while others believe that the system is at the end of its life, and simply needs to be allowed to die with dignity.

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Kyrie Tony knew when he had entered his final weeks and days.  He softened – became almost translucent.  He had fear and deep calm.  In the final days, Maria and I were in Germany, hosting an Art of Hosting in the mountains of Bavaria.  It had been a difficult decision to go, but we discussed it with our hosting team and with Stella and Anna – knowing that the time was close. One morning, Maria rang Stella, and heard that their father had asked for Maria – where was she and when was she coming back? It was time. We said our farewells and headed back to the airport, our flight to Athens and then straight to the hospital. Anna was there, with her father. Maria went into his room and stayed for a while – stroking his head – saying how much she loved him, that all was well – we were all here – and that it was time to go.  He woke and said how happy he was she was there, and that he loved her.

I too went into his darkened room – held his feet as he laid curled on his side – said what an honour it was to have known him – and that I loved him too.

Next morning he passed away.  Stella and Maria were on their way to see him – yet it had been his time. His dignity perhaps asking for him to go on this part of his journey alone, knowing that his family was close by. He was being attended by a doctor who was a dear family friend. He grieved along with them.  This was on 21st July 2008.

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The time of passing is profound. Emotions are mixed. Powerful waves of grief and loss – mixed with the celebratory joy of a life well lived.  The mark of a life leaves an indelible imprint and the legacy remains.

Yet equally, there is a fundamentally new landscape present. A core anchor point is now gone – gone forever. What now? Fear, loss, regret, pain, possibility…all become present, and more. The Void is here. Yet at some point, knowing emerges and life continues.

So how do we move towards a coherent, agreed diagnosis of the issues at hand? I personally believe our economic system is on life support and has been for some time.

Yet how do we, with compassion, hospice a system of such magnitude to die with grace?  How do we also stay compassionate with those who are fighting with all their might, saying that it simply isn’t true and wish to keep pumping the system with measures that, seem in the long run, completely unsustainable – and indeed, inhumane?  How do we help them see that this is perhaps the case, and it is time to let it go?  We may not have experience to know how to do it, but it is human nature to care.

And, where are the forums that can hold the depth of this dilemma – and who are the ones who can hold it?  This, I feel is one of the many experiments happening in Syntagma, and in many places around the world.  They might not identify themselves as hospice care workers, but perhaps that is what they are.

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