Once a week I assist with the chaplaincy team at a local Catholic secondary school. I look forward to these days and am so far consistently amazed by the pupils and staff. I was recently asked to find some ‘You Tube’ video clips of inspiring older people, to be used at a sixth form retreat. I was given a few requests such as the 101 year old marathon runner and the world’s oldest working supermodel (in her 80s). I decided it would be good to celebrate the ordinary – the everyday person. I found clips for the oldest working nurse (86), the oldest teacher (99) and the oldest office worker (100). These examples of real and accessible lives inspired me, if I could be half as active as them when I get to my 80s it will be a good thing.
What was so inspiring about these people working well past their retirement age? It was the fact that they all had ordinary jobs that they continued to do well and more importantly they enjoyed what they did. Age or society’s expectations did not stop them.
I often think that everyday saints can be found in the ordinary through a life well lived and to the best of your abilities. Taking an Ignatian slant, whatever ones purpose in life do all for the greater glory of God. The following week at school to my surprise and joy I was able to make use of my nursing experience and personal encounter to talk about another inspirational person, the late Dame Cicely Saunders. The class was having a lesson on euthanasia followed by the work of Dame Cicely as pioneer of the modern hospice movement.
Dame Cicely Saunders
22 June 1918 – 14 July 2005
This was a subject and person dear to my heart as I once had a private audience with Dame Cicely when she was a patient at the hospice she founded, St Christopher’s in London. It was good to take questions and explore the pupils’ understanding whilst correcting some of the myths and misconceptions around the modern hospice movement. Now hospices offer expertise in symptom management and a variety of supportive services. They are no longer places where people just go to die. Patients may be living with terminal conditions for a long time and so hospices recognise the need to improve the quality of life. As such they become an antidote to the voices that say life is not worth living in the face of a terminal illness. Why? Because in Dame Cicely’s words ‘You matter until the end’. I hope that the hospice movement may carry on her legacy of caring until the end and that in some small way I may have done her justice and inspired a few pupils at the school.