Posts Tagged ‘Support’

Facing In to Funerals: Resistance is understandable but useless

Mar 13 2013

For many years, I’ve avoided funerals, and made excuses for not going.  If you’re over 50, you’ve probably realised, as I have, that funeral invitations come more often at this age.  So I’ve decided to face in to funerals, and this is a progress report.

funerals 2

I recently attended the funeral of a friend in her mid-seventies, who seemed healthy at my wedding four months ago, but was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died within a few weeks.  Linda and I visited her in the hospice, and like many others, were moved and inspired by the positive way that Caroline met her death: to her, it was a transformation, not an ending, and she said, “I can’t wait to see what’s next”.

It was a lovely funeral service, full of joy and celebration of a special woman, but I still found it difficult, and I’ve begun to realise there are many reasons why funerals are inherently difficult, including:funerals 1

They make you think about your own death, and your funeral.  Will I be so warmly remembered, by so many people, as Caroline was?

  • It’s against the usual English norms to show strong emotions in public, but maybe it’s appropriate here??  In any case the mix of emotions is confusing: grief, loss, joy, celebration…
  • Funerals typically bring together lots of people who hardly know each other, and maybe some who’ve fallen out and haven’t spoken for years, so it may be quite a disparate group.
  • Those attending the funeral often have very different connections with the deceased, ranging from very intimate to acquaintances at work.  I think it’s inevitable that a funeral service can’t fit this range, it may be too personal for some, and not enough for others.

I came away from Caroline’s funeral uplifted by a shared celebration of a good life, and appreciating the ways she and I had enriched each other’s lives.  When the next funeral invitation shows up, I’ll probably still feel resistance, but I’ll be clearer that the difficult bits are best faced into and grown through.

How to be a Health Advocate

Nov 28 2012

When you or someone you care for is seriously ill , there are many down to earth ways which can make all the difference in creating the essential mix of hope and healing. For the patient/health advocate team on the journey of a major sickness together, always think of it in terms of the “we” relationship, including engaging others to help.



  • Offer to be a conduit of information, and be the clinic companion.
  • Offer to check online health information to make sure it is ‘gold standard’.
  • Become an information gatherer, or find out who to contact for a ‘second opinion’ if that is what is wanted.
  • Find out if there are additional nursing, caring services, or group support in the local  area.
  • Build up hope. Avoid the statistics of the negative and provide opportunities for encouragement at all times.
  • Always support a decision once it has been made.



  • Be a good listener. We do not have to talk  about the problem or be giving advice all the time.
  • Maximise the laughs. Laughter is the best  medicine.
  • Be relentlessly encouraging among friends and family, and cultivate the friends with the most positivity.
  • Be ready for those thoughtless remarks that can sometimes drop into conversations, and if necessary be prepared to challenge them.
  • Be open to talking about spiritual questions, but don’t feel that there have to be answers or that we have to provide them. Share what wisdom we have, and be equally confident and supportive  in the silences.
  • Be honest. Avoid giving false reassurance or only dwelling on heroic tales of recovery.
  • Help the people visiting to be as normal as  possible. It does not need to be all serious.
  • Help people to understand that we are  different as a result of the illness.
  • If your patient friend doesn’t want to talk about ‘it’, that is OK.



  • Flowers and plants at home. Yes, men like flowers too.
  • Borrow a footbath from a local pedicurist for a home treat.
  • Give cashmere bed socks.
  • Give a loose-fitting pair of cotton trousers.
  • Help with the cooking.
  • Offer to find somebody who can provide a home massage.
  • Suggest a talking book if your patient friend is too tired to keep their eyes open.



  • Plan treats ahead so there is always  something to look forward to.
  • Check out whether other members of the family are coping.
  • Offer to set up a supper rota.
  • Offer to set up a group email.
  • Offer to find out about grants and financial  entitlements.
  • If your patient friend is keen on alternative medicine, find out what is available locally. If they are paying for it, check that they are not being exploited. Also check out what is available on the NHS locally.


Second UK Men’s and Boys’ Conference, November 2012 – MB50 review!

Nov 27 2012

Not so much a movement, more a bunch of tribes and nomads

This one-day conference in Brighton was so vivid and varied that it feels risky to offer an overview in one blog post – but here goes!

There were lots of illuminating surprises for me at this conference.  One was learning about the extent of systematic disadvantage men face in several areas.  For example, there are a lot more support resources for women coming out of prison than men: but 95% of the prison population is male.

My impression, confirmed by this conference, is that there isn’t really a men’s movement in the UK: not in the sense of a sizeable, active, coherent group pursuing specific agendas.  A fairer description, coined by Glen Poole, the prime organiser of this conference, is a loose network of tribes and nomads.

Even the term network overstates things, but that may be changing.  Glen and others from Brighton have set up the UK Men’s Network: currently it doesn’t quite merit that description, but they are expanding their website, starting a list of UK men’s organisations, and planning an e-newsletter.

For International Men’s Day, November 19, the UK Men’s Network produced a useful list giving their view of the top ten issues for men and boys in the UK currently.  We have now posted this on the Men Beyond 50 Network, and it is on the Network website.

Another surprise about this conference was that around 20% of the 140 people attending were women.  The aim of the event was to bring together a wide range of organisations working with men and boys, and it’s understandable that some of the people doing this work are women.  I was glad to see that women delegates were joining in discussions, and made some of the presentations: there was no sense that they felt inhibited by a male-focussed event.

It was less of a surprise, more of a relief, to see the emphasis so many speakers placed on improving rights, funding, services for men without disadvantaging or attacking women.  As someone said, you can be pro-men without being anti-women.

I was surprised, excited and inspired by the diversity, vitality, and inventiveness of the organisations represented at the conference.  When someone in a plenary discussion bemoaned the impact of The Cuts, others pointed out that there were many organisations serving men which have started in the past three years, and the reductions in statutory services have stimulated low-budget, bootstrap initiatives to meet the needs.

One of the organisations which impressed me especially is CALM: A small Merseyside charity helping young men at risk of suicide.  CALM stands for Campaign Against Living Miserably.  They produce small cards, which are too cool to mention suicide, with a brightly coloured message and a list of private sector sponsors.  The card says ‘For over 10 years, CALM has been helping lads on Merseyside to get their heads sorted out.’  It gives examples of what might be ‘stressing you out’, and a freephone helpline and website.

The CALM approach is one that Max and I want to learn from for the MB50 Network.  We believe men are more likely to use a service that approaches them with style, cool, and a touch of humour.  So we intend to get serious about lightening up!




Community, ecology, herbal tea… More lessons in life from Findhorn

Jun 27 2012

Why have I just spent all afternoon on my knees, weeding tiny tufts of couch grass from a flower bed? I’d never do this at home. The reasons why I’m weeding are complex, but they’re all because I’m at Findhorn.

You can’t easily sum up the Findhorn Foundation in a paragraph, but here goes. It’s a spiritual community, eco-village and education centre in a beautiful setting near the sea in North-east Scotland, founded 50 years ago, and it’s been a major source of inspiration and practical learning for me since 1990.

Findhorn people talk about work as love in action, and they walk their talk: this is one reason I’m weeding.  At the start of any Findhorn work shift, there’s an attunement: the work team join hands, connect with the purpose of the task, and ask to be guided to do it well.  This really helps me feel that my mundane, repetitive task is worthwhile, and I stick at it cheerfully.

Since the start, the people at Findhorn Foundation have worked in co-operation with the spirits of the land and the plants, which they call devas.  You may believe it or not – I do believe in devas, and I find a sense of delight and nourishment in the gardens at Findhorn which is not unique, but rare: I feel it on other land which has been tended lovingly and consciously, such as Hazel Hill Wood or Hilfield Friary in Dorset.

If you’re interested in sustainability, Findhorn is well worth a visit.  It’s the only place I know in the UK which deserves the name eco-village.  They generate much of their own electricity, they have a plant-based sewage system, free minibus services, a range of eco-houses, and they grow much of their own food.  Some of this is at Cullerne, where I was weeding a flower bed: here they aim to make the whole place beautiful, not functional.

The Findhorn Foundation started in the Sixties, and there’s a good number of ageing hippies living here.  In fact the age profile of the community is worryingly skewed over 50.  The good side of this is the way they are pioneering new ways to support people with severe ill health or infirmity.

An interesting feature of Findhorn’s Community Care programme is that it trains those needing support in how to receive it.  Strong personalities can get bossy and stroppy when they are infirm, and they need to learn new approaches, such as gratitude, asking for help, admitting they can’t cope.  And those giving support need new skills, like valuing what they do, and making sure they don’t burn out.

I am back here to recharge my batteries, meet old friends, and learn from this community.  All of this I can do in an afternoon of weeding, if it’s at Findhorn!

Elders, seniors, oldies: is there a difference? Learning from Findhorn’s Experience

Apr 13 2012

My involvement in the Men Beyond 50 project has prompted me to explore elderhood: for myself and others. This is one reason for my recent visit to the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland.  For more about Findhorn in general, see my blog (link to Findhorn posting once published) on this topic.

There is an Elders Circle at Findhorn, and I joined their fortnightly meeting.  The first part of this is a half-hour meditation, guided by different members of the Circle each time, with a range of relevant themes.  When I was there, the focus was tuning into the guiding spirits of the community, which I see as a valuable part of the elders’ role.

The meditation is followed by sharing and discussion, and then social time at the nearby Blue Angel Café.  I found the conversation fascinating, as it centred on different meanings of the term elders.  The aim of this Circle is as a gathering of what could be called tribal elders: those who carry and offer wisdom for the community, who could be any age: see more on this below.

However, some at Findhorn, in their 50s and 60s, who have this wisdom, have stayed away from the Elders Circle because they believe it is a social group for oldies.  The discussion recognised the ambiguity in the term, and the need for different words to describe those older in age, such as seniors.

I suspect part of the problem in all this is that most people, until really advanced ages, don’t like to think of themselves as old, or even as senior, let alone elderly or aged.  Do we need a new word?  At least oldies sounds a bit more fun.

My short definition of elderhood, from my forthcoming book Men Beyond 50: Lost and Found, is set out below: most of this applies for men and women.  This broadly matches the views of the Findhorn Elders, who don’t have a written statement.  So here’s mine:

The Elder is a term you often find connected with maturing men, and I hear it in many men’s groups.  It’s a word with various meanings, and maybe each man needs to quest for its significance for him.  This is a summary of what it means to me.

Traditional tribal cultures had a lot of wisdom still relevant to our times.  The warrior had a crucial role in protecting the tribe and hunting food.  Men beyond warrior age were elders.  Although we imagine these tribes as hierarchies with a chief, many were guided and governed by the elders as a group.  The elders carried the wisdom, knowledge and history of the tribe, and were respected for this.  They guided, trained and initiated the young men.  Elders resolved disputes, dreamed dreams, talked to the spirit world, wove stores, and lived in a continuity between the present time, the past and ancestors, and the future – including their own death.

The role of the elder needs skills which many men in our times lack, but would be enriched if they learned: collaborating with other mature men, and supporting younger ones, for example.  See Chapter 11 for more on all this.  However, we don’t live in a tribal culture which makes this easy and natural.  This is one reason why men’s groups are so vital, to encourage and recognise these traditional, archetypal roles.

This is an excerpt from Alan’s book: if you would like to receive further excerpts and information about the book, sign up to this blog as a subscriber.

I hope this debate will continue!  Please feel free to comment on this blog.