Many of you would have seen a few days ago a post I put on our facebook page letting you all know we were in the process of our very own home funeral. Gladys Mary Steele, my grandmother, at the grand old age of 98 took her leave of the world and our family just under a week ago.
For the last four years, Nana had lived in a Nursing Home after my mum got unwell and I needed to return to work. Prior to that, she had lived in the family home for 28 years. The separation was hard at the time and it did not get easier. Now, it is final and so much harder.
Over the course of the 5 days following her death, we have had the most incredible bonding experience as a family and friend group. We are so blessed to have around us such incredible, talented, caring people with a deep and strong capacity when it comes to holding space for us. There will never be the words to thank all of those who have stood by us over the last few days.
On the 14th of March Gladys died and we took her home. We went to the Nursing home and transported her back to the family home. As my mum said, that was her coming home to where she always should have been. Over the next few days we looked after her, we cooled her, we spoke to her, we shared her memories and her stories. We spoke to family and friends. We had well wishes from those who knew and loved her and we planned here ceremony.
There’s a bit of organising to do when a family choose to look after someone in death as they did in life and plan their own ceremony but it is such a blessing to take the time to do it. The journey of grief and bereavement is always a hard one but in those precious moments after death, if you take the time to stay an integral part of the process that follows, there is a special kind of authenticity and rawness that makes it all so worthwhile.
Our family decided to paint her Pod, we chose a Peace Pod for her vessel and we were able to pick it up undercoated to allow us to personalise it just for her. And over the next few days, as people came and went and the layers of paint went on, the layers of our grief began to knit us together. We painted, talked, drank wine, we laughed and hugged. My mum had the idea that we should put doves on her Pod and that became a canvas for those at the funeral to write their farewell messages to the most exquisite of ladies. The whole thing was a cathartic experience and I would not have traded it for the world.
It’s quite a special thing to be able to design something so special for someone so loved. We made the montages, we designed the booklets, we picked the catering, bought bottles of her favourite wine. Then we wrote. We wrote her ceremony and our tributes. We gathered musicians who could play her favourite tunes, we did all we could to do her justice and we took our time doing it. When someone dies, there’s always time.
And it was perfect.
Here’s the thing. It will always be perfect. Perfect does not mean polished or professional, it does not mean everything goes like clockwork or to plan and it does not mean that no mistakes will be made. But it is perfect because the family made it their own, they put their time and handiwork and effort and love into making the journey from death to farewell the community and family experience it can be. And they were able to express their love, gratitude and deep sense of privilege through the making of a farewell.
And that is what we did.
So share the stories of your loved ones as we have done these past few days. Take those moments to share and bond and be as we have done. We sat in the silence when we needed to and we allowed the noise to surround us when we needed that as well. Both have filled and sustained us these past few days along with our incredible tribe.
For my Nana, I will tell her stories and re-tell them as she did for me in sharing the stories of her parents and grandparents. She will always be in my heart and her stories, her memory and the memory of this special journey will stay well and truly alive as part of the history of my family: a history that I intend on seeing passed on again and again. It is a rich tapestry of invaluable knowledge and understanding; woven into it is a wisdom and a humanity that cannot be taught anywhere else. I have my Nana to thank for that and I will hold on to her memory now and the memory of her death care and ceremony, with a grip as sure as the tides and a will as fierce as the winds. Anything less would not do her justice.
A big shout out and a hearty hello to all of the people who came and visited us today and joined our mailing list as well. We are so grateful for all of the conversations, and congratulations received in relation to this work we are doing.
Now you will not have heard from us in a good while now and that is because we have been very busy. I have been working on a Natural Burial Project, finalising the Churchill Fellowship Itinerary so that flights can be booked and most of all we have been helping families with Family Led Funerals.
What a humbling and special start to the year we have had, being able to help families keep their loved ones at home after death and plan ceremony and burial or cremation. We have had such a warm reception into the communities we have encountered so far and overwhelmingly the feedback has been that people who continue to be an integral part of the journey after death, helping to look after their loved one in death as they have done in life, makes for a beautiful and healing grief and bereavement. This is not a disempowering process and for many, it is the future. But, it is also the past. It is a reclaiming of tradition, of how things used to be right here in Australia and how they still are for many places in the world.
Our public education is also growing. Most recently I gave a talk to a group of Palliative nurses in Hobart and there’s a second talk booked for 2 weeks time. I have also been approached by a cancer support group to talk them through the options around dying and death in Tasmania.
Once I have my itinerary set for the Churchill travel I will start sharing a little about the places I am going and the people I am meeting with (and hoping to meet). It is going to be a very exciting journey and I hope you all can follow it with me.