Those of us who have the privilege of working with people at the end of life are acutely aware of the tremendous amount of anxiety that surrounds the end of life. So much energy is spent in denial of death and all too often we miss the opportunity to live into our death. Stephen Jenkinson is the stuff of legend. Over the years, I have heard his name sometimes shouted with enthusiasm and often whispered tentatively as tough this guru of death processes the talisman capable of provided a way through to the end which invites serinity in the midst of anxiety. Over the years, his books have enlightened my own anxious mind and given me the courage to enter into some fearsome journeys.
Formerly a director of children’s grief and palliative care at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, and assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Family and Community Medicine, Jenkinson now spends his time teaching, writing, and leading workshops.
Jenkinson writes: “How we care for the dying people in our midst, and how we die when it is our turn: these together are the proving ground, the cradle and the grave both, for every conviction we have about justice and mercy, about the meaning of life, about what love should look like and what it should do. They are the sum of every political instinct we have, every dream of community we’ve nursed along and every faith we’ve been willing to have in a better day. They are where every fascination about the Other World and the Big Story live, and they are where the midnight fear of Nothing comes to call. They are where our immense technical medical wizardry and mastery is visited upon you and those you love, and where the mythic poverty of our time comes to show itself. They are surely where our love of life earns its keep, or shatters. Mostly, though, they are the place where our ability to be a people is forged, or fails. They are where our village is made or broken. They are where we are most ourselves, and most alone. Together they are The Big Tent of our time.”
The Meaning of Death is a short (6min) video that offers a taste of Jenkinson’s approach. But to learn more of Jenkinson’s remarkable way of being, be sure to follow the link below to the NFB film: Griefwalker. It is well worth watching (70min)!!!!
Griefwalker is a National Film Board of Canada feature documentary film that runs about 70min. Filmed over a 12 year period, it shows Jenkinson in teaching sessions with doctors and nurses, in counselling sessions with dying people ad their families, and in meditative and often frank exchanges. You can view the entire film by clicking on the link below.