Palliative care counsellor to talk about death

Stephen Jenkinson will visit campus Wednesday to screen Griefwalker, the documentary about his work

Jenkinson is the subject of Griefwalker, a documentary film a decade in the making.
Jenkinson is the subject of Griefwalker, a documentary film a decade in the making.
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According to Stephen Jenkinson, we can’t live until we accept we’re going to die.

Jenkinson, who is a palliative care counsellor, will be showing the film Griefwalker, a documentary film about his own philosophy on life and death. The film will be screened Wednesday at Chernoff Hall.

The film was started about 12 years ago when the director, Tim Wilson, started filming Jenkinson at his speaking engagements. The film follows Jenkinson over several years as he provided support for people living out the final stage of their lives.

“It’s a provocative film that really ponders this question: ‘What does it take to fall in love with being alive?” he said.

“The answer that the film gives or at least that I give is you really have to see the end of everything you hold dear before you can love those things.”

Jenkinson’s film is being hosted on campus by Hospice Kingston and Kingston General Hospital.

The film argues that people need to change how they view death in society, he said.

Jenkinson is coming to campus to create a dialogue regarding death, something he feels needs to be started before people are faced with it.

Death should be discussed at an early age so that people can be better prepared for when their time comes, Jenkinson added.

“[In school] you were probably taught the life cycle of frogs … but you never found out that included you, no one ever taught that included you.”

After facilitating a group for men whose loved ones had recently died, he had a revelation that many emotional experiences that we consider normal actually have to be learned. He realized that were able to express their anger about what had happened but had to learn how to be sad.

Within two years Jenkinson had become a leader of a psycho-social palliative care team, the non-medical branch of palliative care, and had started a pediatric palliative care centre. Unlike other branches of medical care, palliative care focuses on easing the suffering of patients in various stages of illness. The industry that he was originally reluctant to join has become his “life’s work.” Jenkinson was formerly an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Family and Community Medicine and a director of children’s grief and palliative care at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

Today he runs workshops on his philosophy of life out of his farm in the Ottawa Valley and has travelled around the world, spreading his message. He has most recently returned from Europe where he taught at the Jung Institute, a institute for psychology in Switzerland founded by the famous psychologist Carl Jung, and toured England and Poland.

Queen’s PhD student Cheryl Sutherland is involved with the organization of the event.

Sutherland became involved with Hospice Kingston following the death of her partner in 2011. “We don’t know what to do because we haven’t been taught it; our culture is death-avoidant,” said Sutherland.

She added that there is beauty in dying and with better teaching, people can learn to see it.

“I think if we can learn the skills to be able to be present for people who are going through the end stage of their life, it’s such a beautiful thing.”

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