Hospice New Zealand

Speaker spotlight - John Swinton

Ahead of Conference 2018 we had a chat with John Swinton about what we could expect from his keynote sessions. 

What does the concept of resilience mean to you when thinking about end of life care?

Basically, the idea of resilience relates to the personal and corporate resources that a person has available to them that will enable them creatively to frame and reframe theirJohn Swinton.jpg experiences in such a way as to enable a good death.

In your experience and area of focus what factors influence a good end of life journey for patients and families?

There are many factors, but one is the ability to construct a positive narrative that helps people make sense of their lives and in so doing, eases the disappointment of death. The suggestion that death can be a disappointment has two aspects to it. Firstly, death is the end of something that one has worked hard on for a considerable length of time: one’s life. Death is disappointing insofar as one may not have achieved all that one would have wished to achieve in life. It’s a marking point that indicates that the decisions you have made and the things you had hoped to achieve have either worked out well or can now never be changed or achieved. For all of us this is a time of satisfaction and disappointment.

Secondly death is disappointing because you have to leave behind everything that you care for. There is an emptiness in death’s disappointment that cannot be filled. Even if one is a religious person who believes in an after life, death remains a point of transition. The time between death and recognising the power of what we leave behind is mitigated but not erased by the hope of life after death. Enabling people to articulate and reflect upon their life narrative is central to facilitating a death that contains both sadness, joy, satisfaction and hope. This is so for individuals and families alike.

Thinking about your presentation: can you give us a high level summary of what you will be sharing with delegates, what can they expect to hear from your session?

My presentation will comprise of an exploration of the role of spirituality and religion in the process of facilitating resilience at the end of our lives. Spirituality – the search for meaning, purpose, hope, value and for some people God -is an aspect of our lives which is always fundamentally important. The questions: who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? Why? move and motivate every aspect of our lives. Most of the time we don’t really think about them, but when we are faced with the crisis of dying, they become particularly poignant. But what resources do we have to answer these kinds of questions in the last days of our lives? Religious narratives are specifically designed to answer these questions throughout the lifespan. But in a post religious context wherein many people claim to be spiritual but not religious, how can we find ways of answering such questions? The presentation will explore this tension and offer some perspectives and possibilities for enabling and supporting spiritual resilience at the end of our lives.

You may have noticed that our vision is Living Every moment – what does this mean to you? 

Time is an odd thing. As St Augustine put it, we know what time is until someone asks us to explain it! The idea of living every moment is very important. Time slips through our fingers. It’s is there and then it is gone. Constantly we try to catch it but as soon as we notice it, it has moved on. Living every moment resonates with the tradition of the sacrament of the present moment. Within this spiritual tradition we slow down and notice that every moment is given to us by God. The present moment is sacred. The past is past and the future may never arrive. We need to learn to live timefully; to appreciate every moment and to enjoy life in the present rather than always chasing it in the future. I think that this is critical for end of life care. We can be so fearful of the future that we forget the present. When we remember the present, we can learn to enjoy this moment rather than being anxious about the next.

Have you been to New Zealand before?Register now 2018.jpg

Yes, I have! It reminded me of Scotland J

When you are travelling around the world – what are three things we would always find in your suitcase?

  1. My Ipad
  2. A theological book
  3. My underpants
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