A Beautiful Way to Die

Grief is an emotional experience over which we humans appear to have little control. With the death of my wife a just over two weeks ago it hits me at surprising moments and is deeply painful when it comes. Rationalising into it seems to have little impact so I can see I am going to have to weather the storm and trust that like many others I will come through the other side.

Today was tough. Last night the Spanish Parliament voted in favour of a motion to allow euthanasia by 208 in favour 140 against and 2 abstentions. It appears likely that this will eventually become law and Spain the fifth country in Europe to allow assisted suicide for chronically ill patients with no hope of recovery and no quality of life. Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg are the other countries that currently permit this.

This raised powerful emotions for me as I have felt so strongly that the law is currently inhumane in so many countries on this issue. My wife had to fly over 2000 miles in extreme discomfort and suffering to go to Switzerland to permit her to exercise her wish to die with dignity. I so wanted her to be able to die at home but at the time this was not possible in Spain or the UK.

I also watched the video of Angel Hernandez assisting his wife to die in Madrid after a long illness with Multiple Sclerosis. His wife Maria Jose had attempted suicide ten years ago and failed. My wife similarly tried to take her own life ten years ago and had I gone out to dinner as planned she would have died then. I came home and found her as did Angel and we were both able to save the loves of our life at that time. My wife never thanked me for saving her then and has always said that is when she wanted to die. He promised his wife she would be able to die at home when the time was right. After helping her he handed himself in to the police and spent a night in a prison cell. He is seventy years old and willing to go to prison for ten years to make the point the current law is wrong. I admire his bravery. Here is the video of the death of his wife. The Death of Maria Jose Carrasco

The article in the New York Times referring to this death can be read here. A death on video makes euthanasia Spain’s issue of the moment

As if that was not enough today Karen’s ashes arrived. Part of the grieving process for me seems to be disbelief I will never speak to her again or see her again. I am an intelligent human being but can’t get my head round her physical presence being part of my past now. The ashes arriving quickly brings reality to the fore. It is painful and I ache. My intelligence is cognitive and this is all emotional.

All these thoughts and emotions are feeding in to what my project is about going forward. I have developed material exploring my own emotions around living with someone who is chronically ill. I have now recently experienced the thoughts and emotions that go with her dying with an assisted suicide. I have lots of images of this process and the final days of her life.

I want my work to have some sort of impact. I admire Angel Hernandez and the strength he has shown to be willing to go to prison so that his wife could die at home in comfort. I strongly feel the laws around assisted suicide for chronically ill people are inhumane. My wife’s next steps would have been to go to hospital for treatment of deep wounds arising from bed sores. Her paralysis was now almost total so she would be bed ridden for the rest of her life with 24 hour care. In her waking hours she would be in extreme pain from spasms or asleep from drugs sparing her that pain. No prisoner of the worst crimes would be put through such an experience by any civilised society.

An emerging idea for my work is something like ‘A Beautiful Way to Die.’ There is a story to tell about the challenges of living with someone who is chronically ill. It is a story of love, perseverance, acceptance of the ‘new normal’ and every six months being the worst six months of our lives and knowing it would get worse. There is a story of hope to tell that there is a beautiful way to end this suffering when the ill person decides they wish to do so. It is rightly difficult and requires many sign offs and much legal paperwork. At the end though to be surrounded by those who love you, laughing, joking, hearing poems of adoration and appreciation and be able to say ‘I have had enough’ and fall asleep with a smile can give hope to so many people.

Now the work begins.

Categories: Informing Contexts, Project Development IC

LEN

I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make
decisions.

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.