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Member’s Review, by David Buck

Averil Stedeford was a GP while her children were small and subsequently trained as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. She worked for twelve years in Sir Michael Sobell House Hospice in Oxford as a therapist and teacher of palliative care to a range of professional staff. Soon after she left the hospice, her husband was found to have inoperable cancer.
Her previous publications are ‘Facing Death: patients, families and professionals’ (1984 &1994) and ‘Ellipse and other poems’ (1990).  In ‘The Long Way Down’, Averil uses twenty-eight poems to share the experience of living with her husband during his illness and her journey of bereavement.  Averil ends with nine general poems which were written while she was working at Sir Michael Sobell House.
All profits from the sale of this book go towards hospice, cancer and bereavement charities.
It is a brave soul who writes about death and dying, and a courageous one who does so in poetry, for honest poetry can really get under the skin. Averil’s poems are very human expressions and personal in a way that will move many…

I put up the lights as you did
the holly wreath on the door
I potted the tree as you did.
This year it hurts more.   (from ‘Second Christmas’)

One senses something of the release that writing poetry brought her…

Suddenly or slowly
with struggle or ease,
the door opens.   (from ‘Dying’)

and what she has leart, albeit painfully,

I kept quiet. Four years on
I still wish I had shouted
so I’m doing it now.   (from ‘A Shout’)

Averil’s professional perspective brings futher colour and insight to the whole,

I listened, found a pen, began to draw
two circles. These are you and John
when you first met. Life and love
moulded you to fit against each other.   (from ‘The Red Hat’)

This volume does not preach, thankfully, nor does it say how it will or shall be in dying and grief. As such, it offers no specific message of hope other than one that says “I am human” and this is how it was and is.  Though written from a spiritual perspective, belief is only one of the many facets that Averil uses to express that there is something more, beyond,

Their fear has gone.   (from ‘Dying Twice’)

I would recommend this book to all who find themselves in any way in the long way down through dying and grieving.

Review by David Buck, Sue Ryder – Wheatfields Hospice, Leeds

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