Lighting a candle in the darkness

“It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” is the mantra of
Dr Bruce Robinson, a lung cancer specialist and professor at the University of Western Australia.

© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Founder of The Fathering Project, Bruce has created an Australian example of a public health approach to end of life care. This approach focuses largely on ‘upstream’ social determinants of health that affect an entire population, while the ‘downstream’ focus relates more to clinical treatment of a ‘patient’ presenting to a health service.

Bearing witness to the regrets of many fathers gave Bruce the motivation to help fathers live fuller lives with their children, by beginning with the end in mind. Over time he observed that many fathers lamented having spent little time with their children; and that only when faced with their mortality, did they begin to realise that most of their time had been invested in working long hours. However, most felt regret that this realisation had come too late. As we often witness in our work, for patients navigating the landscape of regret, reconciling ‘what could have been’ with families can be profoundly difficult.

By making time and prioritising a healthy relationship with their children, Fathers can better navigate towards a healthier death. While ‘healthy dying’ has been discussed—perhaps somewhat in jest—within the thanatological literature (see Kastenbaum 1979; Kellehear, 2014), the practical tips offered by Bruce and his team are informed by research and best practice principles. Simple things can be done well before reclining in one’s death bed; ‘memory-making’ or writing letters to young children – to be opened when they are older, can help both the dying and the bereaved. But there is just one caveat: it requires of us an openness and acceptance of death, in a world of euphemisms where death is more often sequestered rather than discussed openly.

Are you a father?  Is there anything unsaid that you would regret not having told your child/ren, if you were to die tomorrow?

Of course, these questions apply to us all – mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. But you don’t have to be a parent to benefit from this simple message. Bruce’s message is simple. These activities should not be left until one is dying—rather, they can help us now to live more fully with our loved ones. Relationships matter and they should be nurtured while living – such that they endure dying.

After all, it is said that death ends a life – not a relationship.

If you would like to know more about The Fathering Project you can visit Bruce’s site here OR. to learn more about public health approaches to palliative care, visit the Public Health and Palliative Care International site here

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