Death and dying are all part of an inevitable reality that defines the human condition. But how often do we confront and deal with this most certain of eventualities? For an insight into an organisation who offers support and mentoring to those at the end of life, ntpages spoke to Jamie Parker-Smith, the Sydney Region Coordinator for LifeCircle.
Tell us a bit about LifeCircle and what function it performs for the community?
“LifeCircle Australia’s vision is ‘Australians living and dying well’. We provide the opportunity for people to support one another through illness and at life’s end, sharing knowledge, information and experience to support a ‘good end of life’ for all involved. LifeCircle helps to build resilience and capacity to care within communities and support people to engage fully with life, right to the end. LifeCircle offers one to one mentoring for those caring at end of life, telephone support for those affected by serious illness and at end of life, and community events that help people to plan for the later years. Our dedicated staff and experienced, trained volunteers help thousands of Australians every year. “
Is the move away from extended families largely the driver for the type of work LifeCircle undertakes – i.e. we don’t care for each other anymore?
“For many reasons death and dying has been medicalised, sterilised and removed from sight, to the point where the majority of people fear death and dying, and often shy away from serious illness. This is despite the fact that at some stage we will all have to face it. LifeCircle aims to reintegrate death and dying as a natural part of life. By engaging the community to care, we hope to rekindle the inherent wisdom that we perhaps don’t know we hold, reinvigorating not only our capacity to care, but revealing the immensely positive effect that caring for each other can have on us all. So it isn’t so much the move away from the extended families model that drives our work, but the need to reintegrate death as a natural part of life. LifeCircle hopes to engage families, neighbours and the wider community into sharing the care, so the carer can care in a way that he/she wants to, with the aim of creating as positive an experience as is possible, at the same time building community and individual capacity and desire to care.”
Do you think we, Westerners in particular, have a problem with death and the whole process of preparing for this eventuality?
“Dying and death are frightening and final concepts and most of us struggle with them. Being with someone or actively caring for someone at the end of life is an experience most of us will have at some stage, but these days we don’t know much about dying or what is normal. We are familiar with images from TV and movies but they often give us unhelpful ideas about what actually happens when someone dies. We hear stories from friends and families about how difficult and emotionally painful death can be. So many of us are afraid and reluctant to talk or even think about dying and death. The reality is that death is a normal part of life and it happens to all of us. By learning about what happens when someone is in the final days or weeks of life we can become more comfortable with it. In helping to remove fear, and in planning ahead, it is possible to live more fully. LifeCircle Mentors and Telephone Counsellors are trained to talk with people about their fears and encourage ways of addressing them.”
You use volunteers for a large part of your work?
“We have a core staff of ten people, supporting 150 volunteers. Our volunteers come from a very diverse background, and between them speak 16 languages. They are a very special bunch of people, and we are exceptionally lucky to have such wonderful support.”
Can anyone volunteer?
“We welcome volunteers to help out in many ways, drawing upon their personal interests, background and experience, passion to make a difference. We would be delighted to have assistance with current projects, research, fundraising, IT support, website development, database management or general admin. Our volunteers help out at our offices or work from home, whichever is most convenient personally and for the work involved. There have more specific requirements to become a LifeCircle Mentor or Telephone Counsellor.”
What skills do you need to have for phone counsellor & mentor?
“All of our telephone counsellors and mentors have themselves either faced serious illness themselves, or have cared for someone at end of life more than two years ago. We are unique in that all of our mentors and telephone counsellors have had their own personal experience, and thus have an understanding of the practical and emotional issues facing serious illness and/or end of life. A desire to help others in a similar situation and good interpersonal skills are all that is needed, and we provide training for the additional skills and knowledge necessary for mentoring and counselling.”
What type/range of calls do you take on a typical day?
“We take a broad range of calls each day, from those recently diagnosed with a life threatening or life limiting illness or those caring for them, and from carers who don’t know where to turn, or what services are available to them. A lot of people call when they feel no longer able to cope, or feel isolated and alone in some way. Sometimes someone calling will say that their partner has been told he or she has a certain amount of time left, and they would like to die at home, and ask whether we can help.”
Tell us about your educational events & their objective.
“Our Life Matters Seminar and Expos are a unique, informative and engaging event for seniors, carers, and families exploring healthy ageing and choice of care at later stages of life. Through lively expert presentations, exhibitions, and opportunities for conversations, participants are invited to explore advance care planning, legal and financial issues, managing the GP relationship, mentoring, care choices, and services available in the community. LifeMatters events help to demystify the later stages of life and provide information about how to plan ahead. The events are hosted in collaboration with local community and health organisations, local councils, businesses and community groups. Life Matters won a 2012 Australia Day Community event award...people tell us that they find Life Matters engaging and inspiring!”
How are you funded?
“We are funded by related organisations such the Cancer Council NSW, foundation support, local businesses and by the community. If you’d like to donate to us, please visit the website. All donations help us to increase our support of families managing through serious illness and end of life, are greatly valued, and are tax deductible.
If you are facing serious illness, end of life, or are caring for someone who is, and would like someone to talk with, please call the LifeCircle HOPELINE® on 1300 364 673. If you are interested in volunteering with LifeCircle, please visit the volunteer page on our website.