A word with… Heather Topp
Heather, why health consumer representation?
I became a very strong activist in terms of health consumers after my husband’s death by suicide while an inpatient in a private hospital.
You are a Buddhist Minister. What does Buddhism mean to you and how does it help you in your health consumer representation work?
As a result of my husband’s death, I began my own journey of healing – first taking refuge in Buddhism and my chaplaincy and then becoming an ordained interfaith minister in 2009. I am the first Buddhist Coordinating Chaplain in a public hospital in NSW and the first Interfaith Coordinating chaplain in a public hospital in Australia.
My Buddhist practice helps me make sense of things that I feel are unjust or require advocacy. I “lovingly release what I can’t change” by practicing prayers and mantras. By having no attachment to an outcome, I am more able to focus on and find a solution. More importantly, it allows me to have a greater capacity for compassion by listening to a person’s narrative and leaving them with a sense of being heard. I like being able to find solutions rather than getting caught up in problems.
Exploring avenues together with a person who may have had difficulty allows them to feel more empowered and in most instances can be very healing. People can see an outcome they participated in.
I am also a civil marriage celebrant and wedding officiate. These life-celebrations are my ‘internal balance or self-nourishment’. Celebrating other peoples’ happy events is the perfect balance to my advocacy and chaplaincy work (I am also a NSW Disaster Recovery Chaplain. We are called to floods and fires within the State, my last call-out was to the Martin Place siege).
We vividly remember your talk about human rights and how they refer to health rights during our 2014 AGM. What is the most important aspect about that link to you?
The word “Respect” is one of the most important points. It is wonderful to see that finally this, along with rights and choices (patient centred care), is a more empowering way to co-create and allow health consumers to be part of their own journey. It simply leads to much better health outcomes.
What makes you so passionate about the topic?
My heart goes out to people who feel dis-empowered by the health system or who are in a situation where there is disrespect over religious beliefs. I coordinate prayers for peace with all other major faiths.
We noticed that you sign emails with ‘with metta’. What does that mean?
With metta is a Sanskrit term – “in loving kindness”. But my favourite signing is Namaste, a word with an equally wonderful meaning. The short version is, “I bow to the divine in you”.
If you could suggest just one read to our readers. What would it be?
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche – the most interesting aspect of this book is, that by being aware of your own mortality, it allows you to embrace life in a fuller sense as nothing is left undone on an emotional or spiritual level. By that I mean your family, friends, acquaintances – they all know how you feel about them, all know that they matter to you and they are a blessing.