Death Literacy and contemplation


Good evening!

I can scarce believe it has been so long since our last post. It has been a tumultuous few weeks for our family but I want to share with you some of the good stuff.

You would have seen last week a whole bunch of Facebook posts (for those of you who follow our page) showing you some of the goings on at the 2018 Compassionate Communities Death Literacy Conference in Sydney. I was lucky enough to attend both days of the conference and the launch of their most recent research. What is abundantly clear is that the majority of us have had death experiences… we have experienced the death of someone close, we have sat at their bedside, held caring roles and provided emotional support… we feel comfortable talking about it even… but my experience is, we don’t. At least not without someone pushing the subject.

The conference was wonderful. So many like-minded people in the same room, learning from each other and exchanging ideas… it was always going to be good. I learned to reconsider some of my language around dying and death, I learned a lot from a more medical perspective and compassionate approach to Palliative Care… I spoke to Professors, Doctors, Nurses, Therapists, Doulas, Funeral Directors, Designers, Marketers all these people trying to make a difference in this space.

I also learned about the National Death Literacy Index. This is something being put together by Groundswell and it will be a communal resource of what is actually out there for people to access in terms of information and services. Hats off to the Groundswell team for their almighty work!

I have come away from the conference much richer in knowledge and blessed with yet another perspective with which to think about this work. More than that, thanks to the generosity of those i shared this time with, I have also come away with some lovely ideas on how to bring this to the community in different ways.

My top take homes –

  • make a shift from care-based approaches to value-based approaches to end of life care
  • we are not normalising death, it is normal… we are socialising it
  • some hospitals and institutions are beginning to allow families to take their loved one home – this is encouraging – policies are slowly changing to allow for peoples legal rights
  • Frome – community connectors and how it works on the ground. A brilliant example. Read more here – https://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article5039-compassionate-community-project.html
  • Compassionate Communities support Compassionate Cities – there’s a Charter we need to be encouraging Councils to adopt
  • Aprox 30% of people are receiving futile treatment at end of life that they do not want
  • Social change is possible… if there are 24 million people in Australia and approx 160,000 die each year… and if each of those 160,000 has 16 people directly affected around them then that’s 2,500,000 bereaved people each year.. or 5 million ever 2 years… If we can change even some of those experiences then in 10 years we are looking at real social change
  • community is everything. most conversations about dying and death happen when you bring family and friends together
  • ‘death may not be a taboo anymore but taboos still exist in this place especially in being vulnerable’ – Prof. Debbie Horsfall
  • change needs to happen on both levels, from academia, and from the ground. there is room for lived experiences
  • change in how palliative care is perceived will change how it is accessed and this will provide better outcomes and experiences
  • ‘social relationships are the most powerful tool we have for the longevity of life’ Dr. Julian Abel
  • do things with people, not to them
  • work on increasing the communities capacity to look after their own – something I am proud to say I think we are already slowly doing
  • about 25% of people who die die with cancer, so 75% of people do not and yet Palliative care services are taken up with 95% cancer patients
  • Donty tell people what they should do… ‘no one wants to be “should” on’ Eltham Day

Read about Groundswell and their projects, research, and initiatives – http://www.thegroundswellproject.com/

                 

Before flying home, I took a moment to visit an exhibition in Sydney that has me intrigued, called Real Bodies. There’s a little controversy around this exhibition it appears. These are apparently real bodies which have undergone the process of plastination, something I had not heard about. It allows the bodies to be displayed in such a way that they can be intimately examined. I listed to a medical fella explaining the inner workings of the body to his little girl by pointing things our to her… I saw people repulsed and intrigued at the same time. It was fascinating the see what cancer looks like… Incredible to get up close with each organ inside us… this is how we are made! The bodies are intriguing but I had to keep reminding myself that these are apparently real! I wondered, what lives did they lead.. what did they stand for… and how did they end up here? Maybe I should have asked those protestors.

If you would like to know a little more about the technique, you can go here – https://bodyworlds.com/plastination/plastination-technique/

                  

A Bush Burial


Hello!

It’s been a few weeks since our last blog, and there has been a lot happening.

One of the very exciting things recently is that we were contacted by a man who is doing his end of life planning and he wants us to orchestrate his burial! He has very kindly given us permission to share a few pics of his burial site. See, he has already dug the hole!

He obtained permission for this burial on private land many years ago – over a decade. Now that’s planning! In addition he has made his own coffin, spoken to his family about his wishes…. he is preparing for the inevitable.

He took us to the burial spot, the hole was dug years ago. Not all holes dug this far in advance will last as this one has, the position and composition of the earth there has lent itself to longevity. And such a peaceful spot – you can hear the running of the river close by, smell the rich scents of the bush surrounds and here the abundant wildlife all about, and now he has the added peace of mind to know that when he dies, we will be able to help his family with the steps that need to occur to see him laid to rest in this beautiful spot as he has planned.

I wish everyone was as keen to plan for their end as this fine man.

So, can you be buried on private land? Yes. You need permissions in place and those permissions exist on a Local and State level. Every Council area is different and you need Council permission first. Do you need a coffin? No. You can be buried in a shroud. There are cradles available that make moving the body easier (made entirely from recycled paper and will break down quickly in the shallow grave). Shallow Grave? Yes. Legislation requires that you only need 1m of soil between the top of the body and the top of the earth and this is a low impact environmentally friendly option as well.

If you like the idea of a home burial (and potentially a home funeral) we can help you navigate what is needed and get everything in place.

Bec and Edwin

 

        

A re-write!


Its Good Friday… which for some is a day off work. For others it is the Holiest of Holy days… either way I hope you are spending it with family, friends or complete strangers that make you smile.

The last blog post I wrote, I shared with you a story.. this was the story I took with me to the course I completed, becoming an End of Life Doula. It’s an exciting addition to our services and over the next few months you’ll hear more about Doulas from You n’ Taboo.

For now, as promised, the following is a re-write of the story I shared. I have left the story as it was written but I have edited it, taking out the parts that don’t fit and writing in the influence and presence of a Doula to show how it could have been if my family had had the benefit of one who serves.

It’s all conjecture, obviously, but it’s all very possible and as the tears cleared from my eyes what was so very clear is how different my story could have been if not for the support of a Doula.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

When you are young, death is not something that you encounter all too often – if you’re lucky. Unless you’ve managed to be born into a family of death savvy folk, that being the case while you may not encounter death at a young age, it is like traditions, milestone and celebrations, talked about from time to time and not a foreign thing. My first experiences of death were with animals. Once when I was all of about 4 years old I remember the vividly the night I snuck out of the house to save every snail I could find from the torrential rain that we were experiencing – I collected them all up in the pockets of my big cloak and took them all back to bed with me, the intention being to put them back outside in the morning, but of course I fell back asleep and squashed each and every one of them. I never saw the result of it, my parents shielded me from the horror of the mess and mass death while spent time talking to me about the consequences of my actions and went about impressing upon me snails liked the rain and the best thing in future would be to leave them to enjoy it. I remember a knock on our front door one dark, humid night and racing with all the excitement of a young child to open it, only to be met with a teary-eyed man holding the broken body of my beloved cat and quickly being shepherded away from the door when I started yelling at him and calling him a monster – with no compassion or recognition of his already apparent state of distress nor the irresponsibility of my parents as pet owners. I know that they buried her but I wasn’t a part of that process  and I know where they buried her, we created a little space there so that I could grieve her. When my dog, my best friend and companion from birth died, I was a little older and I knew she was sick and old and I knew the right and compassionate think to do was gently end her life. I didn’t go with my parents when they took her to the vet –It wasn’t an option I was offered – but I grieved for her. I got to go with her and say my goodbyes and the vet explained to me what was going to happen before and after her death.

 

When my first human died, I was devastated. I was eight years old.

 

My grandfather was a man who spent the last part of his life with many regrets. He said so on his deathbed. My Nana repeated the story to me several times, how he looked at her and said – “If a man knew how he’d end up, he’d live his life a whole lot differently…” That gave her comfort I think because it was the closest she ever really got to an apology for all the hard years he gave her – and there were many of them – or for her tireless work as his carer for well over a decade.

 

Sometimes our Doula would talk to him about his regrests and his life to try and help him talk through those issues… more often than not he wasn’t interested in any of that, he did have one request though and that was that my Uncle visit him. My parents and grandmother had all asked John to come see his dad. He refused. There’s had been a strained relationship. Our Doula reached out to John as well and it was after a few conversations that he agreed to see the dying man. Thank gave him a little more peace and he was grateful.

 

The man that I knew and loved, the man that loved me so much, was a very different man to the one that was around when my mother and uncle were growing up. By the time I came along he had mellowed and my brother and I bought him joy.

 

I was aware that my grandad was different, he always had been. He was slightly grumpy but beautiful when he smiled, he had a Japanese Happy plant that sat by his spot and every time he would swear at it, I’d giggle and the plant would appear to grow a new leaf. It thrived and was some kind of outlet for what I know now was his incredible frustration. His spot was a sunny one, the plant, his ashtray, room for his chair and a coaster for his beer glass. He was the head of the household unquestionably – he sat at the head of the table, even in my aunt’s home for family meals and he was someone who was smart, opinionated, and articulate. People didn’t often argue with him, he was well respected and a hard man in many ways but he had a softer side, he loved us kids very much. He was a meat and three veg kind of fella, none of that ‘wog’ crap. He was good at delegating jobs and overseeing them too, especially when it came to Nana brewing his beer or my parents doing the work outdoors because he was in a wheel chair and he only had one leg. I’d sit with him when the district nurse came each day to change the dressings on his remaining leg, I’d hold his hand if he flinched – but he was a stoic fella, a mans man and it never really showed. It never occurred to me to shy away from the look of the gangrenous sores and weeping ulcers under those dressings or recoil from their smell. It simply was a part of life, a part of him and in my eyes it never made him any less of a person. I loved him.

 

With the knowledge and hindsight of an adult I know that my parents after 13 years of marriage and with 2 children, one 6 years old and one not much bigger than a newborn, sold their family home to move in with my Nana and Grandad to help Nana cope with the increasing demands of looking after my grandfather. It was a family effort – to me it was never a chore, instead it was one of the things that bought us closer together. Admittedly, I didn’t bear the brunt of the burden either. It was also a community effort, when our Doula would come to visit in the last few months he did not always stay for those conversations, her role with our family was to support the living more than the dying, but it gave him comfort I think to know that they had that support there.

 

For better or worse, and mostly for the better, my brother and I would spend the rest of our childhoods in a multi-generational communal style living the scope of which only grew with time.

 

I don’t know when I knew that he was dying, I knew he’d been unwell, I’d witnessed him getting old and frail but the veil of childhood wonder meant I missed the glances that would have been exchanged when his wounds got increasingly worse, I wasn’t privy to any of the discussions relating to his deterioration but as his situation worsened my family made sure I was kept informed. You see, they had taken on the serviced of an End of Life Doula and part of the plans they had put in place was the opportunity for me to be a part of this whole process of my Grandad dying, at an age appropriate level of course. So the day I got home from school to find that he had been taken to the hospital, I was shocked sad but I understood it was not a surprise. I still then didn’t know he was going to die. I don’t think it actually occurred to any of the adults to tell me. There was so much going on at that time quite on top of all of this. Life is ever layered with complications and complexities.

 

My Grandad was a proud man, and stoic as I mentioned and he really didn’t want me to see him like that, lying there dying in hospital. With the help of our Doula my Parents were able to talk to him and gain his permission for them to bring mr to the hospital. As much as he didn’t want me to, he came to see that it would indeed help me. After a while of pestering, I was allowed to see him only once after that day. I was taken to the hospital, marched up to his room and only as far as the door I got to spend the last time with him that I ever would. It was invaluable. I wasn’t allowed in. By then they had placed him in a hammock, having amputated his 2nd leg and his bed and pressure sores having a reached a point where he could no longer lay flat. I now know that they nursed him to strength for nearly a week to get him strong enough to have the amputation, which sent his into a downward spiral. This was not a choice my family felt that they had, perhaps if they had engaged a Doula a little earlier in the process they would have had more time to think through their options and the implications of them.

 

I went home that afternoon and drew him a card. The card was a get-well card to say goodbye with a picture of him in his hammock on the front. I still didn’t register that he wouldn’t be coming home. Many years later my Nana showed it to me and I remembered it. She’d kept it all these years.

 

I remember very clearly the morning that the call came, to say he wouldn’t ‘make it’. It was early in the morning but we were all up. I remember sitting on Grandads side of the bed in my grandparent’s room, watching my Nana try to hurry and get dressed. She was of the old generation and getting dressed was with corset, suspenders, draws, singlet and stockings before she ever put clothes on. I remember she was crying so much she could barely see to roll up her stockings to get them on. Every time she’d look at me I’d look away, tracing the pattern of the doona cover with a finger. Her sadness was confronting, the emotion was raw and I wasn’t disturbing to me but I had seen my adults cry before and we had had many discussions about what would happen when he was ready to die so I was prepared for my emotional reaction to that, everything in me called out to be with him. That’s when I think I knew he was dying. That he would not be coming home.

 

I desperately wanted to go to the hospital with them and we had talked about what we would do about that. Grandad still did not feel I should be there and so my Parents had discussed options with our Doula and one of the options she offered was to arrange with the hospital staff a quiet space in the hospital, close to my Grandads room, where some one could be with me and I could be there to see him once he has died. I got to take with me all of the important things, my doll Julie-Anne that I used to tease him with, and a few other special things and I wrote him a letter, tellinghim that I loived him which my parents said they would give him . I begged them to let me go with them. Didn’t they know that he needed me? He wouldn’t turn me away. He was my grandad. My mate. When he died, I was allowed to see him one more time, it was so hard and sad but at the same time I felt really happy to see him still and peaceful with my letter on his chest. But it wasn’t a place for children and I was taken to my other grandparent’s house for the day.

 

I did not get to say goodbye.

 

His funeral was not a place for children either.

 

The day of his funeral I was dressed in my dark blue dress, the one with red piping and little tiny flowers all over it. I sat in the front row of the Crematorium Chapel and I cried and cried. on the lino on the kitchen floor and cried. I was angry that everyone else went to the funeral but not me. My other grandparents stayed at home with me. The day was a blur after that. People came and went.

 

As our family lore tells it, three days after he died his happy plant died too.

 

I was in my late teens before I was able to talk to Nana and my Mum about his death. About how grateful I was for having been able to be just as big a a part of his death as I had been of his life.  scarred I felt by the entire ordeal and how much hurt and anger I carried… About not being able to say goodbye to him, about not being there for him, feeling like I’d been forced to abandon him, like my absence would be proof that I somehow didn’t care or love him which could not have been further from the truth and my regret at how I never got to hear his tributes, his eulogy that my mum gave – she said it was such a hard thing for her to write but she couldn’t remember it all those years later and she had not kept a copy… All that I have of the ceremony of his farewell are the left over thank you cards that were sent out to those who attended. It bought it all back when I first saw those cards because the thought flashed into my mind – my name will never be on one of those.

 

As conversations happened over the years and I moved into adulthood and had a child of my own I realise how lucky I was to be included like that, and how for so many kids that is not their experience. I am so glad that my family has the services of a Doula, an independent party to provide a fresh set of eyes, options, time to talk through decision and consequences and impacts. was eventually told that my grandad had expressed that he didn’t want me to see him like that, that’s why my parents ignored my insistences to see him. I think they always knew it was not the right thing for me but they respected his wishes. I feel selfish about being upset by that. And for the first time I felt guilty, I remember so clearly my pleas to go to the hospital the day he died and I know now as a mother how much harder it must have made it for them. And I can’t say that I would not have respected his wishes either, at times I like to think I’d have fought for my child’s right to be included, but it’s a different world now. The same can be said for my absence at the funeral.

 

My Nana, now 97, tells me it just wasn’t done in those days. But they did it anyway and perhaps thanks to the support of our Doula they felt they were able to do things the way that they did. Both her and my parents have talked many times about it. They have shared with me their recollections and the story of when he died, how they were sick of the hospital reviving him and so they locked the door and wouldn’t let anyone in for 20 minutes after they knew he had died. They have apologised over the years as we have talked all this through over the decades because it took me that long to feel at peace with the idea that I was not able to say goodbye to him. Such was the closeness we had.

 

The most lasting impression I had of this time was one of unity, support and peace in a dark time. sadness and disconnection. I felt abandoned to my grief and ostracised from the entire process of his leaving this world. I felt loss and I felt lost. I didn’t have the words to express it and like many children I bottled it all up for a long while. But it was there. Children learn about death, grief, grieving, and bereavement through the examples they are set. When they are now set those examples, not included in those processes, it becomes a much harder path to tread for them. The anger and hurt can be years in the reconciling.

 

The things I felt I handled most effectively are  all things that have come with age and wisdom and the maturity to recognise the impact of this situation and the need to have an honest, calm and safe talk to my family about it. At the time I did not throw a tantrum or demand my way. My pleas fell on deaf ears to go to the hospital when he died and to his funeral but I don’t recall ever acting out or holding that against them. I accepted it without the maturity to understand why. It was cathartic though to have that conversation with my mother years later and tell her that of all the ups and downs of our relationship over the last 38 years, the hardest thing I have ever had to do was forgive her for my exclusion from the death of her Father. But I did.

 

A story of mine


Good evening!

I have just returned from a week in Melbourne. While I was there I completed both the one day and three day ‘Preparing the Way’ End of Life Doula training courses run by Helen Callanan. What does that mean? It means I am one step closer to offering my services to people not only after death by way of Family Led Funerals but also as they approach their end of life. There are many services a Doula can offer but generally, a Doula offers information, support and resources to people approaching their end of life and their families.

Imagine engaging with someone who could help you navigate the end of life and that person being there for you as a support through the dying, death, funeral and bereavement journey. Imagine that person supporting the dying and the family without ever taking control – their attitude being “you’ve got this and I’ve got you.” Doulas are not medical, they do not advise on treatment, best courses of action, medication etc… Instead they exist to educate, advocate, provide options and information then support through whatever decisions are ultimately made.

So, I turned up at the start of the 3 day course with a story to tell. I had written this story for the very first time, and although I have shared this story before with many people this was the first time I had written it and it bought me to tears.

This week I am going to share this story as I wrote it before the course.

In a week or so, I am going to share with you a new version, I am going to write a Doula into the story and explore how that presence may have impacted the happenings. (Thanks to Helen for this magnificent idea).

So here is my story:-

______________________________________________________________________________________________

When you are young, death is not something that you encounter all too often – if you’re lucky. My first experiences of death were with animals. Once when I was all of about 4 years old I remember the vividly the night I snuck out of the house to save every snail I could find from the torrential rain that we were experiencing – I collected them all up in the pockets of my big cloak and took them all back to bed with me, the intention being to put them back outside in the morning, but if course I fell back asleep and squashed each and every one of them. I never saw the result of it, my parents shielded me from the horror of the mess and mass death while impressing upon me snails liked the rain and the best thing in future would be to leave them to enjoy it. I remember a knock on our front door one dark, humid night and racing with all the excitement of a young child to open it, only to be met with a teary-eyed man holding the broken body of my beloved cat and quickly being shepherded away from the door when I started yelling at him and calling him a monster – with no compassion or recognition of his already apparent state of distress nor the irresponsibility of my parents as pet owners. I know that they buried her but I wasn’t a part of that process. When my dog, my best friend and companion from birth died, I was a little older and I knew she was sick and old and I knew the right and compassionate think to do was gently end her life. I didn’t go with my parents when they took her to the vet – It wasn’t an option I was offered – but I grieved for her.

When my first human died, I was devastated. I was eight years old.

My grandfather was a man who spent the last part of his life with many regrets. He said so on his deathbed. My Nana repeated the story to me several times, how he looked at her and said – “If a man knew how he’d end up, he’d live his life a whole lot differently…” That gave her comfort I think because it was the closest she ever really got to an apology for all the hard years he gave her – and there were many of them – or for her tireless work as his carer for well over a decade.

The man that I knew and loved, the man that loved me so much, was a very different man to the one that was around when my mother and uncle were growing up. By the time I came along he had mellowed and my brother and I bought him joy.

I was aware that my granddad was different, he always had been. He was slightly grumpy but beautiful when he smiled, he had a Japanese Happy plant that sat by his spot and every time he would swear at it, I’d giggle and the plant would appear to grow a new leaf. It thrived and was some kind of outlet for what I know now Was his incredible frustration. His spot was A sunny one, the plant, his ashtray, room for his chair and a coaster for his beer glass. He was the head of the household unquestionably – he sat at the head of the table, even in my aunt’s home for family meals and he was someone who was smart, opinionated, and articulate. People didn’t often argue with him, he was well respected and a hard man in many ways but he had a softer side, he loved us kids very much. He was a meAt and three veg kind of fella, none of that ‘wog’ crap. He was good at delegating jobs and overseeing them too, especially when it came to Nana brewing his beer or my parents doing the work outdoors because he was in a wheel chair and he only had one leg. I’d sit with him when the district nurse came each day to change the dressings on his remaining leg, I’d hold his hand if he flinched – but he was a stoic fella, a mans man and it never really showed. It never occurred to me to shy away from the look of the gangrenous sores and weeping ulcers under those dressings or recoil from their smell. It simply was a part of life, a part of him and in my eyes it never made him any less of a person. I loved him.

With the knowledge and hindsight of an adult I know that my parents after 13 years of marriage and with 2 children, one 6 years old and one not much bigger than a newborn, sold their family home to move in with my Nana and Granddad to help Nana cope with the increasing demands of looking after my grandfather. It was a family effort – to me it was never a chore, instead it was one of the things that bought us closer together. Admittedly, I didn’t bear the brunt of the burden either. For better or worse, and mostly for the better, my brother and I would spend the rest of our childhoods in a multi-generational communal style living the scope of which only grew with time.

I don’t know when I knew that he was dying, I knew he’d been unwell, I’d witnessed him getting old and frail but the veil of childhood wonder meant I missed the glances that would have been exchanged when his wounds got increasingly worse, I wasn’t privy to any of the discussions relating to his deterioration so the day I got home from school to find that he had been taken to the hospital, I was shocked. I still then didn’t know he was going to die. I don’t think it actually occurred to any of the adults to tell me. There was so much going on at that time quite on top of all of this. Life is ever layered with complications and complexities.

After a while of pestering, I was allowed to see him only once after that day. I was taken to the hospital, marched up to his room and only as far as the door. I wasn’t allowed in. By then they had placed him in a hammock, having amputated his 2nd leg and his bed and pressure sores having a reached a point where he could no longer lay flat. I now know that they nursed him to strength for nearly a week to get him strong enough to have the amputation, which sent his into a downward spiral.

I went home that afternoon and drew him a card. The card was a get-well card with a picture of him in his hammock on the front. I still didn’t register that he wouldn’t be coming home. Many years later my Nana showed it to me and I remembered it. She’d kept it all these years.

I remember very clearly the morning that the call came, to say he wouldn’t ‘make it’. It was early in the morning but we were all up. I remember sitting on Granddads side of the bed in my grandparent’s room, watching my Nana try to hurry and get dressed. She was of the old generation and getting dressed was with corset, suspenders, draws, singlet and stockings before she ever put clothes on. I remember she was crying so much she could barely see to roll up her stockings to get them on. Every time she’d look at me I’d look away, tracing the pattern of the doona cover with a finger. Her sadness was confronting, the emotion was raw and I wasn’t prepared for my emotional reaction to that, everything in me called out to be with him. That’s when I think I knew he was dying. That he would not be coming home.

I desperately wanted to go to the hospital with them. I begged them to let me go with them. Didn’t they know that he needed me? He wouldn’t turn me away. He was my granddad. My mate. But it wasn’t a place for children and I was taken to my other grandparent’s house for the day.

I did not get to say goodbye.

His funeral was not a place for children either.

The day of his funeral I was dressed in my dark blue dress, the one with red piping and little tiny flowers all over it. I sat on the lino on the kitchen floor and cried. I was angry that everyone else went to the funeral but not me. My other grandparents stayed at home with me. The day was a blur after that. People came and went.

As our family lore tells it, three days after he died his happy plant died too.

I was in my late teens before I was able to talk to Nana and my Mum about his death. About how scarred I felt by the entire ordeal and how much hurt and anger I carried… About not being able to say goodbye to him, about not being there for him, feeling like I’d been forced to abandon him, like my absence would be proof that I somehow didn’t care or love him which could not have been further from the truth and my regret at how I never got to hear his tributes, his eulogy that my mum gave – she said it was such a hard thing for her to write but she couldn’t remember it all those years later and she had not kept a copy… All that I have of the ceremony of his farewell are the left over thank you cards that were sent out to those who attended. It bought it all back when I first saw those cards because the thought flashed into my mind – my name will never be on one of those.

As conversations happened over the years and I moved into adulthood and had a child of my own I was eventually told that my granddad had expressed that he didn’t want me to see him like that, that’s why my parents ignored my insistence to see him. I think they always knew it was not the right thing for me but they respected his wishes. I feel selfish about being upset by that. And for the first time I felt guilty, I remember so clearly my pleas to go to the hospital the day he died and I know now as a mother how much harder it must have made it for them. And I can’t say that I would not have respected his wishes either, at times I like to think I’d have fought for my child’s right to be included, but it’s a different world now. The same can be said for my absence at the funeral. My Nana, now 97, tells me it just wasn’t done in those days. Both her and my parents have talked many times about it. They have shared with me their recollections and the story of when he died, how they were sick of the hospital reviving him and so they locked the door and wouldn’t let anyone in for 20 minutes after they knew he had died. They have apologised over the years as we have talked all this through over the decades because it took me that long to feel at peace with the idea that I was not able to say goodbye to him. Such was the closeness I felt.

The most lasting impression I had of this time was one of sadness and disconnection. I felt abandoned to my grief and ostracised from the entire process of his leaving this world. I felt loss and I felt lost. I didn’t have the words to express it and like many children I bottled it all up for a long while. But it was there. Children learn about death, grief, grieving, and bereavement through the examples they are set. When they are now set those examples, not included in those processes, it becomes a much harder path to tread for them. The anger and hurt can be years in the reconciling.

The things I felt I handled most effectively are all things that have come with age and wisdom and the maturity to recognise the impact of this situation and the need to have an honest, calm and safe talk to my family about it. At the time I did not throw a tantrum or demand my way. My pleas fell on deaf ears to go to the hospital when he died and to his funeral but I don’t recall ever acting out or holding that against them. I accepted it without the maturity to understand why. It was cathartic though to have that conversation with my mother years later and tell her that of all the ups and downs of our relationship over the last 38 years, the hardest thing I have ever had to do was forgive her for my exclusion from the death of her Father. But I did.

The Next Event..


You n’ Taboo are proud to present…..

SHROUDED IN MYSTERY

What is a shroud?          Why would you use one?            How does it work?            

Have you ever wanted to make one?

Join us for a 2 part workshop all about Shrouds, in theory and practice. Take the opportunity to start creating a shroud of your own.

In the first workshop, learn about Shrouds & explore why they are used. With the help of some talented people, start thinking about how you would like to create and decorate a Shroud for yourself.

Through conversations, we will explore the following-

Shrouds : what they are, what they can be and what you can make them

Natural Burial, Family Led Funerals, Shrouded burial and cremation

 The second workshop will be an opportunity to get hands on, creating your own individual Shroud.  You will be able to bring along your materials and ideas and start exploring  Shroud creation.

Dates: 6th and the 27th May 2018

Time: 10am—2pm, Lunch is included.

Venue: Moonah Arts Centre

Cost: $75.00 for both Workshops

Tickets are availbale at – https://www.trybooking.com/361401

For more information,  call 0417307658 / 0400254836

or email bec@yountaboo.com / edwin@yountaboo.com

A thank you..


It felt good to lay in bed this morning after such a big day yesterday… but it was with a twinge of guilt that we had decided to do the Wellness Expo yesterday in place of our monthly meeting and not in addition to it. So the first thank you goes to all of our supporters who were happy for us to have a day off!

We had an incredible response yesterday. We were busy the whole day and there were people actually waiting to talk to us, to ask questions and have discussions and share with us their stories and experiences. Tasmania is full of incredible people, those willing to have a go, those who are inquisitive and open minded, those who want to learn, those who live by a kind of DIY ethos, those who want to challenge mainstream ideas and notions – including the industry around death and funerals. To each and every one of you, locals, visitors, tourists alike who can and gave us their time, thanks for making our day worthwhile. In particular – to the lady yesterday who said that she came to the Expo just to see us, thank you – we are glad that you did. To the person who just paused in passing long enough to say to us that she gets all our email and enjoys them so keep up the good work – we will, and thank you – your encouragement helps us keep going. To those who expressed that they want to get involved – thank you as well, we are so humbled and appreciative! To our friends and family who help so much behind the scenes, thank you – you make it easier, always. And to the beautiful people at the Natural Death Advocacy Network, thank you for your support and for sending me the flyers – nearly all of them were taken by people who were genuinely interested – we are so pleased to be a part of this network.

There are some fantastic things happening in the space of Death and Dying. Tasmania is close to Natural Burials, Family Led Funerals are becoming a reality now along with shrouded Cremation and shrouded Burial is also becoming more widely considered as a viable, financial and environmentally responsible option. You n’ Taboo is just one voice is an ever growing chorus of voices all chanting the benefits of this movement – empowerment and education. All of these voices, like anything else, need to be singing the same song if ever we are going to encourage change on a mass scale. That’s one of the real benefits of getting out in the thick of places like the Wellness Expo. Meeting like minded individuals and taking the time to talk but also to listen – there is so much we can learn from each other and so many valuable connections we are able to make if we take the time to listen.

In less than a week a dear friend and I are heading off to Melbourne for 8 days at the end of which, all going well, we will have completed our Preparing the Way training which means we will be entering the space as Death Doulas. I expect that upon our return I will be bursting with information to share with you all…

Until then.

Bec x

The Wellness Expo


Greetings!

A year ago Edwin and I kicked off our idea of taking the conversation around death and dying into the public arena by procuring a stall at the annual Wellness Expo in Hobart. It has been quite a success and we have connected with so many people, keen to learn more about what is possible and support us in our goals.

This year, we will be there again.

2018 Wellness Expo

Saturday, 3 March 2018 –

10:00am to 4:00pm

Location

Princes Wharf 1, Castray Esplanade
Hobart TAS 7000

Australia

Come and see us, have a chat about all things death and dying and if your game, take a rest in our coffin.

For more information about the Wellness Expo and who else will be there, take a look at –

https://www.facebook.com/events/1302229393217359/

 

NOTE:

Importantly, we wont be holding our usual monthly meeting for March as it is due the following day after the Wellness Expo (so if you want your monthly You n’ Taboo fix you’ll have to come down and spend some time with us on Saturday) and the meeting Scheduled for the Fist Sunday in April is actually Easter Sunday. So, our next You n’ Taboo meeting will be held on Sunday 6th May 2018 and do we have a treat for you! We are still ironing out some of the details but we have taken on board some of your feedback, so stay tuned for a new workshop series that we will be announcing soon!

The Birth of Somthing New


This is just a quick mid week shout out to you all, i’m sure by now you’d be well aware that we helped the West Moonah Coffin Club with it’s official launch on Sunday.

It was a wonderful turn out, everyone there has a good time and found it all interesting and informative. The feedback was so positive and all of the speakers were well received.

Simon gave a wonderful tour of the West Moonah Mens Shed where the Club will be based and the Club will be ongoing – weekly – we hope you will all get behind it and support this venture.

Let us know if you’d like details of where to find more information.

Here’s a few pictures from the weekend. Thank you to Simon and the West Moonah Community House for the opportunity to be involved, thank you to those who provided the food and gave their time to come speak to us and thank you to all of you who turned out in support of the Club.

Bec and Edwin x

                                                  

When a child dies.


I have read a lot this week about what happens when a child dies, so this week I am sharing with you my musings.

As a Funeral Director, I was called upon at times to hold lifeless children in my hands, not all babies.. some a few months, a few years.. some nearing adulthood. I sat with many parents who were faced with immeasurable loss. Some who sought to understand and wanted as much information as i could provide. Some who just wanted me to see their child, really see them, thereby confirming to the parents they really did have a child in the first place. Some parents wanted my help in dressing their children, some wanted it done for them. Some wanted foot prints and finger prints and hand casts… some wanted photos or any strands of hair i could find. Anyone working in that space who tells you it is not difficult is either lying or should find a new job. But as hard as it is, what keeps you going is the knowledge that it is so much harder for them and all you can hope to do is assist in their journey for that little moment in time, help them through just one part of their now life long healing.

No one expects to loose a child. People often think that pregnancy loss and death in childbirth have now been relegated to third world problems, that the advent of modern medicine has meant that middle class, western women don’t have to worry about such things. Its not true. You can follow all the rules, take all the classes, keep all the appointments, do your exercise, watch what you eat and look after yourself entirely, and still suffer the death of a child. Its much more common than people think.

Sometimes the loss of a child happens when you think that the danger must have passed. They start to grow into mini adults, the years of immature vulnerability pass by and you grow comfortably into family life… and then out of the blue one mistake, bad decision or error of judgement – or that of another, and lives are cut tragically short. It’s not always drugs and alcohol, motor vehicles or predators, bullies or un-diagnosed mental distress….  it can be well intentioned, hurrying home from a party or weekend job, lending a hand on the farm, helping out a mate or a total stranger….. or otherwise while simply going about ones daily life.

There’s no rhyme or reason. There’s no fool-proof way of keeping our children safe. No amount of perfect parenting – if there ever was such a thing – is truly the answer. We can nurture them from babies, provide wholesome loving care, we can give our children all of the social and emotional tools in our arsenal (and a few others that we learn along the way), we can reinforce how much we are there for them, we can promise they can call no matter what situation they get into, we can teach them good judgement and to recognise risk factors, not to let others get their drinks and not to go along with a crowd…. in the end, none of that may matter.

When I was fourteen one of my very good friends committed suicide. She didn’t mean to. She had such a hard childhood, the daughter of an alcoholic mother and a father who wasn’t interested in her or her wayward behavior. I knew her when she came to live with her grandparents. I was 14, she was 15, and she has already suffered incredible hardship, homelessness, abuse, loss and rejection. She abused alcohol and drugs. She clung to boyfriends for the love and care she missed as a child. I see it all now so clearly.  When her latest relationship came to an end in a desperate bid for attention she swallowed about 160 gout pills which thinned her blood and she spent the next three days in and out of consciousness. I’d been with her only a day or two before hand and stopped her taking pills that day, not old enough or wise enough to realise she’d do it again. We spent the rest of the day sitting in her Granddad’s car smoking and singing our hearts out to an old Meatloaf cassette tape. When she died it was officially ‘death by miss-adventure’, she said she didn’t want to die.

Why. It’s perhaps the question, the universal question, that we all ask of no one in particular at least once in our lives. Why?….. No matter our suffering or cross to bear, we are all united in the fact that we as humans do in fact suffer. We all feel loss, sometimes more keenly than others, but no one is immune. The difference when it comes to the death of a child is that when a baby or young person dies, it is considered particularly cruel. Unfathomable. Against the natural order. Parents are not supposed to bury their children, that is supposed to be the other way around. There is a level of tragedy that exists in the death of a child that is hard to find elsewhere. Society doesn’t consider that the young should, or will, die. When an elderly person dies it can sometimes be seen as the opposite. How cruel they had to live as long as they did with their pain and physical suffering. What a blessing their suffering is over. Perhaps this reinforces the horror that greets the death of children.

Eventually ‘why’ gives way to an understanding of just what is. At some point you begin to see the beautiful things again. A rainbow or a sunset…. you hear a song that reminds you of that person and instead of crying you find yourself contemplating a good memory. In among the tears, happiness slowly creeps back. But with the death of a child there is added grief to work through. It is the grief of all the memories that you will not make. The milestones you will not celebrate. The moments you will never be afforded. The hugs you will not share. The tears you will not wipe. The smiles and the million little gestures which you will only ever long for. You don’t just grieve for a child, you grieve for the life they will not live and all that you miss out on because of it.

While I was reading this week about the death of various children and how the families coped with the loss I remembered this poem that i came across years ago.  I don’t know it’s story. I don’t know where I first found it or who brought it to my attention. But it speaks of the loss of a child, it speaks of how that family made their peace. Peace, that really is all we can strive for in the moments of grieving. I have often said as a Funeral Director my job was to help people make memories, so that in weeks, months, years to come they were able to look back at the tragic and have a little peace in the knowledge that the time was made a little gentler than it otherwise might have been.


Bertha’s Burial

Died, in Williamsburg, Mass., Feb. 5, Bertha Sampson, daughter of Louisa and Henry James, 6 years, 9 months. A lovely child of unusual promise, and the youngest of three beautiful daughters.

Cold over earth
Lay a shroud of white,
But heaven above
Arched blue and bright,
And the setting sun,
With a last fond ray
Clasped the casket white
Where Bertha lay.

The peaceful hands
We folded down,
Of lilies we wove her
Cross and crown,
And a flower-strung harp,
That our hearts might hold
A symbol fair
Of her harp of gold.

The blossoms they brought
In fragrance fell, –
Violet and rose,
Pale immortelle, –
But never a bud
So bright and fair
As the white-faced darling
Slumbering there.

Our bowed hearts wept
Over the child,
But in new-born beauty
Bertha smiled –
The smile that comes
With a soul’s release,
While her pale hands grasped
The lilies of peace.

And we know she had joined
Those “waiting outside”
Revealed to her vision
When, “Mother,” she cried,
“Oh Mother, just look
Through the window and see,
For I think that outside
They are waiting for me.”

To the tomb we bore
Both cross and crown,
And the harp we laid,
With Bertha, down,
But the cross still blooms –
For a promise is kept –
The crown is worn
And the harp is swept.

C.H.W
Williamsburg, Mass., February 1874

‘Coco’ and the alternative lesson it offers us.


A little while ago we shared a trailer to a kid’s movie, called ‘Coco’. Anything that deals with death in a positive way for children must be a good thing… right? Well, in this case it was very right.

On New Years Days my family and I went to see ‘Coco’. Dedicated as we were, we arrived at the movie theatre in Hobart at 9.10am and we were the only ones there. I’m not sure about you, but going to see a movie in an empty theatre does not provide me with complete confidence that this movie is worth the money paid to watch it!

By the time we left, I was feeling quite glad to have had our own private viewing.

‘Coco’ is the story of a boy whose family has a generations old hatred of music and he has music in his heart. It is where he finds his true happiness. In desperation he finds himself in the tomb of his hero and from there plummeted into the land of the dead on the famous night of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Now a lot of people recognise the so called ‘sugar skulls’ and enjoy the dress up and ‘spooky’ elements of the day of the dead, but a little like Halloween (the origins of which lay in the ancient Pagan festival of Samhain) the true meaning seems to have been lost somewhere along the years. ‘Coco’ attempts – successfully so – to explain to it’s audience with a childlike wonder and spectacle, the meaning and purpose of one of the world’s most famous death related celebrations.

The theme through this movie is family, love and connectedness, care and concern, tradition and loyalty even through the tough times. Especially through the tough times. But it also shows that ultimately, traditions can change and be altered to fit a changing world and a growing family without destroying the sense of toughness which lies at the heart of family.

Perhaps the most prolific point of the film is about the dead, our ancestors – all of those who have come before us and paved the way for the life and the family we have today. In ‘Coco’, ancestors are not just a distant memory they are a part of the family’s every day life and they believe that if you don’t remember your ancestors they are lost to you forever, along with their stories and history. While the dead are remembered in the hearts and minds of the living they are never too far away and on the night of Dia de los Muertos if you place a photo of them in the family home or on their grave, that is the night they can cross over and be with their living once more. Marigold flowers are spread as the path they will follow home and offerings and tributes are left for them as well to take with them when they return to the land of the dead.

Now obviously as a kid’s movie, this is not a detailed or in-depth explanation, but it serves more than one important purpose. Firstly, in terms of understanding culture and religion this movie gets people thinking – kids included – it raises the awareness that there’s something more to this day of the dead stuff beyond funky face paint, Frida Kahlo dress up and sugar cookies.

But there’s an even more important message in this film I feel. On several occasions in this film the dead are much more afraid of the living than the living are of the dead. That’s important. The little alive boy who finds himself in the land of the dead is a scarier figure to the dead than all the skeletons are to him. No matter the age of the child – or adult – watching this film, the message that the dead are not scary is clear. Even if all the nuances of the ritual and religion are lost on people, the idea that you don’t need to be afraid of the dead is present and repeated.

Why is that important?

Simply, as we are moving away from commercial funeral homes and placing the care of our dead back in the sacred hands of the family and friend that have loved that person in life, the message that the dead are not a thing to fear is vital. The dead are not scary. They are not dangerous. They are not in need of professional assistance and procedures. They are the vessel that carried your loved one through life and instead of fear we can approach our dead with reverence. With kindness. With care. With a desire to honour them in death as we respected them in life. We can own that journey and those traditions ourselves, as a family and as a community. We can remove the stigma of the dead being dirty, scary, hazardous and unclean return to a truly traditional way of dealing with our dead with authenticity and honesty as part of our journey of healing from grief and bereavement. As a bonus to this, you will also find that you not only come out the other side of this journey with a much more whole and peaceful bereavement, but you also will not be presented with a $10,000 bill at the end of it either.

Family lead funerals.

It starts with teaching people that the dead are not scary.

See the trailer here –

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