“Words in pain” is an extraordinary book about the true story of a woman, Olga Jacoby, facing a terminal illness at the start of the 20th century. She wrote a series of letters about coming to terms with her early death and it’s just been turned into a gripping book.
Her story was the centre of an event at Bell House, as part of the Dulwich Festival. Trevor Moore, a humanist, arranged the launch of Words in Pain which he jointly edited with Jocelyn Catty. Jocelyn is the great grand-daughter of Olga as well as being a psychotherapist for adolescents.
At the centre of “Words in Pain” is Olga who fully understands the seriousness of her condition and says:
“... I am rather bad at hiding my feelings...the more I realise what a physical wreck I am the more I try to improve my brain.... Christianity should resign its rights when higher claims arise...I just try to suffer as little as possible... happiness seems to me a reason for living....I feel like shouting “ be happy”... there is so very much I shall have to leave undone... doctor, you have once again put your hand in mine and given me the courage to go on.... cry if you must... I think I would like to die with my fountain pen in my hand... I cannot remember saying there is no God.... when first I knew my death was approaching I stared at the blank, black wall.... then I turned from it and vowed the wall should not crush me....dream of my vision: good night... I have made up my mind to take the sleeping draught tonight...if anyone could see the utter resignation with which I lie down now.....my love to you, dear friends....I have at last taken fate into my own hands... I shall go to sleep with a good conscience and thanks to my kind friends... goodbye.”
Her words were spoken by actress Beth Ayer.
We heard the response of her doctor, acted by Mark Hayford: ...”the blow has fallen...she was so young...she suffered so much...I think I knew her well enough to know...her heart was always willing... her wonderful serenity which was rooted in her only-human strength...her last act was an act of renunciation...she died for her nearest and dearest.....”
As the co-author, Trevor says “the words are both of their time and yet capable of time travel - very relevant to today. Olga resists the temptation to claim to know what she doesn’t know.”
Trevor explains that since Olga Jacoby’s time - around 1909 - the term “humanist” has changed a lot and now means living without religion, whereas then it meant caring for others. This is very fitting with Bell House’s ethos, and especially its Learning to Care project, educating people who are caring for older friends and relatives.