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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Sue Marsden talks about Thank You, Elisabeth


Sue Marsden has worked in Palliative Medicine in hospital, hospice and community settings in New Zealand and Australia. Sue has three children and four grandchildren with whom she loves to spend time. As well, skiing, walking and reading occupy any spare time. Sue talks to NZ Booklovers about her newly released book.

Tell us a little about Thank you, Elisabeth.

When beginning my career in Palliative Medicine, I met Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross by attending one of her ‘Life Death and Transition’ workshops. I was introduced there to the importance of being aware of my own emotional issues when working with people who are suffering. As Elisabeth would say ‘If you want to work with the dying, deal with your own shit first!’


In the book I relate stories of people at the end of life who have continued to teach me the importance of self-awareness.


With more awareness there is less likelihood of projecting one’s own issues into a situation and less likelihood of developing ‘compassion fatigue’ or ‘burnout’. There is also more chance of being able to facilitate hope, healing and meaning for the dying.


What inspired you to write this book?

Over the years there were many patients’ stories that stayed with me; stories of sadness, grief, poignancy, even conflict but also there was joy, serenity and courage. They were stories from different countries and cultures. I started writing them down. In the back of my mind was a thought that some time I might turn them into some sort of proper record or even a book! Well maybe.


Just as I was moving from Oncology practice into Palliative Medicine I met Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who introduced me to the concept of and necessity for self-awareness when working with people who were suffering. I soon recognized this to be of vital importance and came to see it as a clinical responsibility. In fact, I have become a bit evangelical about it in my palliative care teaching. Gradually I realized that the stories I had collected illustrated this. I decided that should be the focus of my book. I will always be grateful to Elisabeth for introducing me to such an important aspect of care.


What was your process when writing this book?

As I have indicated the process started sporadically with my recording individual stories with notes of what I had learnt from them.


Overtime I grouped stories together that seemed to have similar themes.

During this time, I was regularly teaching self-care/self-awareness workshops and found that I was using some of the stories to illustrate. There was a clear link between the stories and the importance of self-awareness.


One of my mentors challenged me to put the material together as a book. I was further challenged with a deadline to finish the first draft.


Being challenged and setting deadlines have been a definite part of the whole process.

After the first very raw draft was completed I thought it would merely land up as a record of what my work had been like for my children and grandchildren should they be interested.


My mentor again challenged me to take it to the next level with writing coaching and editing. I challenged myself during a year’s writing coaching to keep up a momentum of revising a chapter a month.


Next I took the advice to attempt to self-publish with Mary Egan Publishing who accepted my manuscript to my delight. The next steps involved further editing, choosing layout and cover design and finally proof reading. Then off to the printer.


During the whole process I needed to have a tool to deal with all my self- doubts, judgements and fears of rejection. The tool that I have used for many years to deal with these beliefs and enhance my self-awareness has been acupoint tapping. The tapping modality I use is Simple Energy Technique (SET) and Intention Tapping (IEP). The first was developed by Steve Well and Dr David Lake from Australia. Steve has gone on to develop Intention Tapping. He has acted as a wonderful mentor during the whole development of my book.


Who is the book for?

I hope especially, that palliative care health care professionals will find this book useful. However, I hope it will be helpful for anyone who is involved in the care and support of someone at the end of life or indeed with any aspect of life suffering.


If a soundtrack was to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Greatest Love of All (Whitney Houston)

Sound of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel)


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

When thinking about this question over a few days the book that kept coming to mind was Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari. This is a book about addiction and Hari’s journey spanning 3 years and some 30,000 miles across the world to research the reasons behind the ‘War on Drugs’ and what keeps people addicted. I found this book inspiring in respect of Hari’s determination to investigate the carnage that the ‘War on Drugs’ has created. It is astonishing that it was essentially one American civil servant/politician whose beliefs and prejudices, mostly racially motivated were allowed to become such a crusade. Hari’s honesty and authenticity touched me deeply. An overwhelming reason for addiction he concludes is lack of connection, which the drug war has augmented. He believes it is time to rethink attitudes to drug addiction. I look forward to reading his second book Lost Connections.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

After some time with my grandchildren, some skiing and doing some palliative medicine locums I am not quite sure! I keep trying to ignore the voice in my head that keeps suggesting documenting experiences of facilitating at Suffering and Hope workshops in South East Asia and turning it into a book.


Mary Egan Publishing

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