The ambiguity of being human


Three weeks along

It seems like a blink but we have now been at Bear Cottage for three weeks and things continue to be slow and steady. It has been three weeks of continued watching and waiting.

I should know not to expect anything concrete in life.. But when they moved us to Bear Cottage it was with a sense that there really was very little time left with Samuel. However in his usual form Samuel has decided to continue to do things in his own fashion and in his own good time.

What Samuel has given me is a lot more quiet time to reflect on life, to read and to contemplate a wide range of things.

The fundamental ambiguity of being human

Impermanence… it’s an issue that we all have to deal with whether we like it or not. Exploring and becoming comfortable with impermanence is a key part of Buddhist philosophy.

One of the books I have read while sitting alongside Samuel’s bed is “Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change” by Pema Chodron.

In it she reminds us that

whether we’re conscious of it or not, the ground is always shifting. Nothing lasts, including us.

She also provides great reminder about the conditions we all experience in life and provides some excellent points on exploring the fact that we are always trying to get solid ground under our feet, always concerning ourselves with pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disgrace, and praise and blame; always moving between the various states.

Sitting and watching Samuel for weeks, and as a family trying to keep things together, calm and purposeful, has been great lesson in the movement between all these states.

How to be of service..

I try to be compassionate. A strong reflection on compassion is always accompanied by the question “how can I be of service”?

In the book Pema Chodron also reminds us

Time after time… We will find that we are not really sure what will help and not hurt

As we have been making decisions for Samuel over the past weeks a constant concern has been about making decisions that won’t hurt him. We have made decisions about removing additional pressure support for Samuel, some slight changes in his medication, getting used to changes in his breathing patterns…. Having to accept things that in the past we would not have accepted.

It’s all an experiment

Pema invites is to live our life as an experiment and;

adopt an attitude of “I’m not sure what will help in this situation, but I am going to experiment and try this”. Sometimes the result will be “Wow, did that ever NOT work”, but if it is we have learnt something, and now we can try something different

Samuel’s colour is not what it usually is, he looks a little blue around the lips and nose in the mornings, he is occasionally working harder with his breathing, he is clearly in pain more often.

We are figuring out what works and what doesn’t. We are watching and waiting still but as always we are being guided by Samuel and it’s clear he is going to decide what will happen and when.

Until them we will continue to deal with the fundamental ambiguity of being human in our situation.

About death and dying

About Death and Dying

Death and dying are something that ALL of us will confront at some point in our lives… it is an unavoidable consequence of the human condition.

Thinking about what constitutes a good death and having the discussions about that are sadly a part of my life in caring for one of my children (see how did I get here, real mean can and should cry) We have had to have conversations around palliative care, about where (if there is any choice at the time) our son should spend his last hours/days and how much care can and  will be provided when this time arrives.

What is a good death?

The issue of a good death and the discussion around it is often one that ignites great passions from people from various perspectives.

A series exploring the subject of death and dying

This subject has recently been featuring over at The Conversation

So I am simply going to share the links to the articles they are publishing, and encourage you to think about death and dying and keep on open mind and contemplate the varying perspectives on offer,

Part 1 – Deadly Censorship Games

This post looks at the issue of euthanasia and the coverage of this issue within the media and the censorship surrounding it.

Part 2 – End of the care conveyor belt – death in Intensive Care Units

This post looks at the increasing likelihood that people will spend their last days in an intensive care unit and some of the implications around this.

Part 3 – Caring or Curing – the importance of being honest 

This post looks at the issue of providing care from the point of view of an oncologist

Part 4 – Death and despair or peace and contentment – Why families need to talk about end of life options

A case study and exploration of a situation that many families will be faced with.

Part 5 – Body or Soul: Why we don’t talk about death and dying

A look at some of the ethics and perspectives of people involved in the process.

Part 6 – Advanced Care Directives

A look at legalities, processes and issues around planning for how you or someone you care for should be cared for towards the end of life

Part 7 – A personal account of life with Terminal Cancer


The title to this one is self explanatory.

Other places where the conversation is happening

The ABC in Australia recently published a piece by well known and respected journalist Quentin Dempster titled “Do you have a right to die”. This is a detailed piece that includes a few case studies, but also includes perspectives from people like the former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions and how issues of assisted death have been handled constructively and passionately, in some cases despite the apparent intent of the law.

Death and Dying – A buddhist perspective

If you have read a few other posts on this site you will note that they often include thinking that is influenced by something of a Buddhist perspective (although I don’t claim to be a practicing Buddhist.. or practicing anything else for that matter!) There is a wealth of information and thinking about death and dying within the Buddhist tradition, but I have to say thanks to a reader of this blog Kate Bacon for pointing me in the direction of  Death and Dying a site that explores the subject from a purely Buddhist perspective.

What does it all mean?

Each of the links that I have provided will provoke a range of thoughts and feelings…

I would encourage you to think long and hard about death and dying because as I said above you WILL be faced with a choice around the issues of death and dying at some point in your life…


I’ll add updates to this post from time to time…. but what are your thoughts on what constitutes a good death?