Things are going to be quiet on the Sporks side of life for the next few months as
I explore a new, slightly terrifying, but hopefully rewarding environment.
As a student of Social Work at the University of Queensland, my degree includes two semesters of full time Placement – one during my current third year, and one during the last semester of fourth year. The aim being to give students the opportunity to explore the practical reality of Social Work, in an area that we feel most passionately about. For me, after volunteering in aged care as a teenager, while it sounds morbid to most people, I have always been drawn to the idea of working with families around end-of-life support. Specifically, the emotional and practical processes of grief and loss, death and dying. Ideally, that would involve working in private homes, a community hospice, or a hospital; with the aim of advocating for individuals to die in the most meaningful, autonomous and dignified way as possible.
I believe it would be a privilege to support people on their final ‘journey’ and to help those who are left behind to function in their grief. For a long time, I’ve felt that so many other cultures outside Australia incorporate the rituals around dying in to life in so much better ways than we do. Through travel I’ve been fortunate to watch funeral processions through rural villages in different parts of the world; witness the public rituals of burning bodies on the banks of the Ganges in India, and I have seen how other cultural beliefs and traditions ensure death is very much a part of everyday life. These experiences have shown me that death is not only natural, but not always something to be feared. Sometimes death and dying can even be peaceful or long awaited – albeit undeniably and universally sad.
Seeing how other cultures celebrate life and witness death in a much more inclusive and community supported way has made me acutely aware of the heavy medico-legal model of sustaining life (at all costs) that we have here in Australia. I feel like our culture struggles to prepare, discuss, or plan for a ‘good death’ when it is so much a part of everyone’s reality. It’s a sad fact that seventy percent of Australians who are terminally ill would like to die in their own home, while unfortunately, only fourteen percent get to do so. No matter what your spiritual or religious beliefs I feel we can do it better, and I want to be a part of seeing real change in that area of our rapidly ageing society; through public policy, less controlling legislation, a greater provision of in-home palliative care services and hopefully through community education and development.
I am extremely fortunate to have scored a position at an adult public hospital as my first Placement. It will be a full time (four days a week), unpaid position that starts on Monday. There will be little time for anything else as I will need to work the remaining three days of the week to pay my bills and save a little. In other words, zero time for wandering and socialising – but all worth it in the big scheme of things. Andrés will continue to work hard as well of course, and our plans to head to Colombia for a holiday in late June will definitely be the carrot for all our efforts.
It’s nice to be feeling that familiar combination of excitement and nerves about it all, the same feeling you get when you’re about to visit a new destination; an understanding that nothing will ever be quite the same after experiencing someplace new. No doubt I will be heavily moved by people’s individual stories, as well as changed by the learning that will come from navigating a hospital environment and the different types of people that work there. I will also need to learn to separate such an intense role with my personal life, but I hope, that through a better understanding of death and dying, and being able to help in some small way, that I will have a renewed sense of life. I imagine that I will have a greater appreciation of what really matters in the here and now for most people, in a world that I often find dominated by consumerism and social disconnection. Overall, I feel excited to see, learn, and be emotionally moved by the reality of life on a daily basis.
With all of that in mind I want to wish all my lovely university friends who are also going on Placement a smooth, enriching and wonderful ‘adventure’!
Man lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived – Dalai Lama