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"You Matter Because You are You": Faith and End of Life Care

Published January 30, 2018 by Rachel Simonson

The forget-me-not flower and dementia are linked in the most beautiful way. While dementia causes a decline in memory and cognitive function, the forget-me-not flower symbolises the not wanting to be forgotten and not wanting to forget, especially by their loved ones.

For the last three years Rachel Simonson has been The Faraday Institute Administrator. In her spare time she is a Trustee of Campassion Care Trust, a Cambridge-based charity aiming to set up a Christian care home in the city. 

"You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life".

These are the words of Dame Cicely Saunders (1918-2005) at the forefront of palliative care in hospices in the UK, a compassionate and practical response to the problem of increasing numbers dying in pain and distress. She was a Christian and - in a long line of pioneering Christian medics - it was her faith which motivated her.  Today faith communities are vitally important in the care of our ageing population.  

I don’t know whether it is my age but I suddenly seem to be surrounded by old-age related issues.  I became involved in the Cambridge inter-church care home project a few years ago when I felt so far away and helpless to get involved in supporting two dear and elderly relations with dementia.  Their situations were very different and onset had been very sudden for one and very long and drawn out for the other. They were both in homes where their spiritual needs were so important but not seen as a priority.  I now understand that even people with advanced dementia still respond on a deep emotional level to familiar words of prayers and hymns. Now I have more relatives living with this condition and I know I am not alone. Christmas news from friends made me realise how many are living out the same story with their parents; and my colleagues and acquaintances here in Cambridge are no different. Christmas holiday reading this year included Iris, an intimate portrait of Iris Murdoch's dementia journey recounted by her husband John Bayley; The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry, where the narrator is 100 years old and has been in a mental institution for most of her life; Thinking of You, a new resource for the spiritual care of people with dementia by a Faraday collaborator Rev Canon Dr Joanna Collicutt; and Life in the Departure Lounge with practical tips from an octogenarian writer and minister Revd David Winter. This is the tip of the iceburg of literature tackling this topic!  

As so many of us live longer, the issue of dementia is evermore present.  This isn’t the only topic which will be addressed at the workshop, jointly organised by The Faraday and The Woolf Institutes on Thursday 15 February (10.30 – 4.00 at The Woolf Building)   

The programme for the day is ambitious and wide-ranging, I am thankful that the two Institute Directors have come together to suggest speakers, pool resources and bring their own expertise to the table as the topic of extending life at any cost is examined from several angles. The only speaker I have heard before is Professor John Wyatt and from my perspective it would be worth coming on the day to hear him. I share his Christian perspective that good medicine must know its limits – it must know when to say "enough is enough"; when death changes from an enemy to be resisted, into a gateway to a new existence, even a strange kind of healing.  

To close, some words from King David in Psalm 139: "All the days ordained for me were written in your book, before one of them came to be". Why do we need to tamper and if we do are we playing God?

I hope you will feel inspired to attend this workshop or to recommend it to others.

For further details and to book your tickets, please see here:

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