All’s well that ends well… My inaugural lecture

“The time towards death is incredibly important.

Because it isn’t really about death: it’s about life and about your relationships. So, dying in a way that is as good as possible, whatever that means for you, is hugely important.

It really is a case of all’s well that ends well…

My mission over the past 20 years has been to include everybody, including people with learning disabilities, in all’s well that ends well.

Because if we are not paying attention to how people end their lives, their final months, the final time; and to their deaths and their bereavements – if that doesn’t matter, then what you’re really saying that people’s lives don’t matter.”

That’s what I said in my inaugural lecture last month.

I’ve finally managed to put the film of the lecture on YouTube. Here it is.

I am quite used to giving talks.

It goes with the job. My diary in the next few months includes a masterclass for palliative care professionals in Portugal, a keynote lecture at a conference for cancer nurses in Sweden, a workshop for care staff in learning disability homes in Milton Keynes, and a lecture for MPs, Lords and assorted healthcare professionals at the Houses of Parliament here in London.

But I rarely talk publicly about what I’ve learned in the L’Arche community, where I lived for eight years when I first came to England. It is sometimes hard to explain the bonds of friendship formed in those years of shared living, and how they have shaped my life and my work, even my work as an academic.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget about those bonds.

But at a time like this, when (ex-)L’Arche community members all over the world are coming together to mourn the deaths of Carol and Michelle, when people who haven’t seen each other for years are sharing memories, laughter, tears – I understand afresh why Michelle and Carol are so important in my life.

So it seems quite extraordinary that in my inaugural lecture last month, I did talk about L’Arche, and about friendships, and about bonds. I even had a slide and a story about Michelle. (It starts at 15 mins in the film of the lecture).

I’m glad I did, because now, when friends and colleagues ask me how I am, all I have to say is, Remember Michelle? The woman I shared a room with, who looked after me when I was ill?

She died.

And I don’t have to explain why that matters so much, because it is obvious.

Michelle’s and Carol’s deaths matter because their lives mattered.

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