Tommy Wilson: Bravery in the face of death

By Tommy Wilson

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The Waipuna Hospice has helped many overcome their fear of dying.
The Waipuna Hospice has helped many overcome their fear of dying.

We all have favourite quotes, poems, songs and sayings to help us through the pages of life that tell our story. Many of us have a quiver of quotes, holding the arrows of hope we fire out in times of need, none more so than when we or our loved ones face the final days of life.

My mantra I have carried in my quote quiver is by an old aboriginal teacher, Monty Pryor - the author of a brilliant book Maybe Tomorrow - and it deals with death alongside many other challenges indigenous cultures face across the planet.

Monty, in his wisdom, believes we all face death with way too much anxiety and fear, and his classic quote, "We fear most what we understand least", is a gem, especially today at the start of the national Hospice Awareness Week.

I am constantly being asked what our local Waipuna Hospice is all about by whanau and friends (they know I am one of the team members on the board) and the first myth to dispel is that many who come for help at Waipuna leave again by walking straight back out the way they came in.

Hospices are not just about the final days of life and facing death with dignity, but about helping family and whanau help their loved ones through varying stages of a life-threatening illness.

For many of us, the fear of flying and fear of dying are somewhat similar - connected by a chord of very little understanding we hold on to without sometimes ever knowing. Both fears can be largely dismissed by understanding more. In most cases, if and when death comes, we have no say in where it will happen. But many of those who are fortunate enough to have a hospice on their side when times are tough say it is the wisest decision they and their families have ever made.

Normalising death is a new challenge and one we will all deal with better if we are to face the fear of dying.

There are many myths around hospice care and it wasn't until my own mother was looked after, loved and carried by the Awhi Angels of Waipuna on her final days that I really got to understand and overcome the fear of dying.

So much so that I got involved in our local hospice at Waipuna on the banks of the panoramic Wairoa River.

What I soon found out is Waipuna isn't the scary place we drive as fast as we can past, without looking left in case it may in some weird way increase our chances of being the next customer ...

I tend to look at it more as a launching pad to the next life than a last-chance saloon of this one.

For Maori choosing the hospice option, it is encouragingly becoming a lot more normalised as the word of their angelic awhi endeavours is carried across the Kumara Vine, and as recent as this February there were eight referrals by Maori, or 19.5 per cent of the total referrals.

We now have a full-time whanau member at Waipuna - Tina Parata works as our whakamaru, protector of the person (client) and of the knowledge, to help whanau manage their long-term or short-term hospice care, and we are perceived more and more as a "culturally cool" place to be cared for in the final days of life. The thing is, many who come in to Waipuna leave very much alive - they just need a helping hand to deal with the dilemmas that life has dealt them. In fact, my mate from across the Wairoa River has been helped by Waipuna for the past decade and will outlive many of us his age - on the sunset side of 60.

When you sit on a board like the Waipuna Hospice, you get a much clearer understanding of what goes on and who gets looked after for what reason. You hear and read comments like: "Once my husband had been diagnosed we were given a level of care that was an unbelievable relief and it happened immediately"; "The staff are wonderful, caring angels"; "The support was something our family will never forget"; "To know I/we weren't alone in the dying process"; "I always thought that the hospice was for people very close to dying but now I know better".

All of us will face death but it need not be with unfounded fear. Old age is a privilege that not all of us get to experience but when it is time to take that launching pad step, perhaps taking the advice of a very wise old aboriginal man by overcoming our fears, it is a great legacy to leave our loved ones.

- broblack@xtra.co.nz

- Tommy Wilson is a best-selling author and local writer.

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