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:-

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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 –

The Moddey Dhoo


G’day all,

-This is Joey, proud son of Rebecca, wishing you all a very happy new year~

To wrap up 2017, tonight we’ve shared on You n’ Taboo a little story written by Jonas Kyratzes called ‘The Moddey Dhoo’, in reference to the Manx folktale.

I stumbled upon this article by complete accident only a couple of months ago. I was feeling awfully nostalgic at the time, so I decided to revisit some old flash games I enjoyed when I was in primary school. One in particular was called ‘The Fabulous Screech’, and I remember it as one of the first games that emotionally affected me.

Upon revisiting it, however, I discovered that it was not a standalone title. Rather, it was a part of a collection of games and short stories collected under the title- ‘The Lands of Dream’.

Since then I have downloaded and played all the games I could, pertaining to The Lands of Dream. They are wonderful, by the way. I recommend them to anyone interested in good, meaningful ‘interactive novels’, as they are called. (As they are more like books than games.)

As for the short stories, (all compiled under the heading: ‘The Oneiropolis Compendium’), they are equally as flavoursome and anecdotal as the games- if not more so. This particular story is a favourite of mine, as it puts a refreshing spin on the classic Manx story.

We learned about The Moddey Dhoo during our time on The Isle of Man. Whilst there, we visited the beautiful Peel Castle, or the ruins thereof. Mum and I headed down some crumbling brick stairs that were far, far older than us and we came to a dark, dank cellar dug out on the edge of a cliff face, so that the barred windows overlooked the rough ocean.

We spent quite a bit of time in that cellar, and from a plaque we learned that the area was used as, as well as a cellar, a prison and a guard house in its lifetime. While we were chatting about how we ‘couldn’t imagine anyone spending more than a few hours down here at a time’, a father and two small children- a girl and a boy- came lolloping down the stairs.

“Okay kids, let me tell you a story…” the father began, and mum and I decided to listen in. I sat down in a corner and watched.

“…this room was used as a guard house many, many years ago. One cold, dark, rainy night, four men were all sat around a fire pit, over where that boy over there is sitting-”

(That boy was me.)

“-taking turns patrolling the castle. Every hour they would change patrol. At midnight, they all heard a big, loud barking and howling from outside.    They were all frozen-   with fear.    The person that was meant to be outside didn’t come back, so one brave man decided to look for him…   after half an hour, the same thing happened. There was a loud barking, and the man never came back…”

At this point, my mother, the two children and I were completely wrapped with what he was saying.

“…the third man sitting around the fire decided to look for the two missing men, and the same thing happened again.     So the two guys left are looking at each other, frightened of what was out there, when all of a sudden-

pat.. pat.. pat..

-they hear something walking down the stairs. Do you know what it was…?”

(A pause, for effect)

“…it was a big, black dog. Bigger than you or I; it was as big as a car and as dark as night. And its eyes were two burning flames. It didn’t attack the men, though. It simply crept up to the fire and sat with them.    Well, the two men tried to reach for their gun, but every time they moved, the dog started growling at them…

…in the morning, when the next group of guards came to swap posts, the dog was nowhere to be seen, and all they saw were two dead guards-     who died of fright.”

That, we later found out, was the legend of The Moddey Dhoo, more or less.

So, in conclusion, what can we take away from this? I would say this-

Death is both scary and romanticised in many different ways and in many cultures, all around the world. This is, at it’s core, because death is a hard beast to understand. We spend our entire lives living and no one knows why it is that all living creatures must stop. It is scary because we don’t know, and will never conceivably understand what lies beyond death, because as far as we know it’s a one-way door.

There is, however, light at the end of this tunnel. Through tales such as The Moddey Dhoo we get to see death in a different way, one that makes it a tangible, understandable thing. We are reminded that death is but a mere part of life, and that fear of death is the only thing stopping us from truly living.

Find where the original inspiration came from at – http://landsofdream.net/the-oneiropolis-compendium/the-moddey-dhoo/

Grief at Christmas


“Christmas Grief” by Christy McMillan

I know the lights upon your tree, won’t seem so bright this year

And carols that the children sing, you may not want to hear

The holidays bring back the pangs, of grief within your heart

And once again you’ll question why, your loved one had to part

We are gifted loved ones, but they leave us all too soon

Then Christmas seems to reinforce, your world is out of tune

Hold tight to friends and family, they’ll shelter you with love

Through them you’ll sense your loved one’s heart, from their resting place above.

 

For some of you this will be your first Christmas without one of your loved ones.

If you struggle with grief at Christmas time, this is for you.

It is a difficult time especially if that person was one who you shared all or many of your Christmases with; someone who was a special part of your festive time. They have left a hole that will never again be filled. Their place may be taken by someone new but no one else can ever fill that gap in the same way.

I trust that, being very close to Christmas Day, you have given thought to how you will negotiate all the activities of the day and how you will navigate all the thoughts and feelings that are beginning to flood your mind.

Here’s a few suggestions –

  1. Be kind to yourself. If you think it is just too much to face people on the day, don’t plan to do so. You may need to take this Christmas off from celebration. On the other hand, there may be close family and/or friends who know, understand and love you who you can trust with your raw feelings and emotions. Spend as much time as you can with them and accept the healing and cathartic experiences that are a possibility.
  2. There will be particular times or happenings that you know you will struggle with. Maybe your loved one had certain roles or tasks throughout the day that they had made their own. Give that some thought and work out a strategy as to how you may be able to prepare yourself for the inevitable rush of emotions that will come when those times arrive. Place yourself in a position, emotionally and physically, where you will be better able to handle the situation, hopefully with someone close who will understand.
  3. It is probably not a good idea to completely isolate yourself for the day. Be prepared to push yourself a little. Be honest with your family and friends with how you are feeling and coping.
  4. Do something that you know you will enjoy. Get out of the house, even if it is to go for a walk or a drive to somewhere you love being. Allow yourself to feel the weight of your emotions, even just a little, don’t be afraid to let them out. Lifeline and other organisations offer telephone counselling services all year round and it may just be enough for you to give them a call and tell the person on the end of the line just how you are feeling and your fears. They are trained to listen and be gentle. And they may even be able to offer something to help you in your struggle.
  5. Christmas is a time of memories. You have created so many of them throughout your life of Christmases gone by. Maybe now is the time to fashion some new ones. Consider creating a space for the one you have lost in some way. Perhaps you can think of something that represents their presence or contribution to past Christmases that you could place as a special memento in their honour; their favourite Christmas hat, their wine glass or fresh new potatoes like dad always supplied. Even a simple verbal acknowledgement of their absence this year and the way you will miss them is healing. I have had the moving experience of having everyone who would like to, share what they are feeling, missing or remembering. Maybe having a candle burning as a symbol of their presence is enough.
  6. Another idea I have heard of is to have an empty seat at the table, a powerful symbol of your loved one who is absent.

Whatever you choose to do try to make some tangible acknowledgement of the deep loss you are feeling. The externalising of the turmoil within is a healing experience. Eventually, you will yourself experiencing brief moments where you may find yourself laughing or smiling and those moments will become more frequent. Your will remember the past with fondness and sadness and the fondness will grow stronger. Death doesn’t stop for holidays, but it will not always haunt you either. What you need this year may be different to what you needed last year and what you will feel like next year. That is part of forming new traditions while walking the path of a healthy bereavement.

Captivating Eulogies


This weeks blog post is bought to you by Edwin Quilliam.

Captivating Eulogies.

I’ve been to a few funerals in my day. I’ve been involved in the funeral industry for around ten years. I’ve lead around eighty funeral services in the past three or so years…  and a few before that as well. So I’ve heard and presented quite a number of eulogies over that time.

Now I’m not proposing that a funeral service or the eulogy delivered as part of a funeral service is a performance but I do strongly believe that a eulogy should be prepared and delivered in such a way that it is engaging, somewhat entertaining whilst covering off on some basic components.

By way of definition, does this help?

“A eulogy is a speech or writing in praise of a person, especially one who recently died. It is a speech given at a memorial or funeral service that commemorates and celebrates the life of the deceased. It is essentially a way of saying farewell to a person who has passed away by expressing and sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences that honour and respect the deceased.”

One eulogy I remember very well and no doubt everyone who was present that day does as well, was delivered by a close family member who was very creative, artistic and engaging. The first few minutes were very entertaining, the first ten minutes had us intrigued, after the first half an hour we were starting to tune out and by the time forty-five minutes had passed I was well zoned out, and it still wasn’t finished. Take-home message: make it as performance-based as you like but also make it succinct, punchy and memorable (for the right reasons).

I have found the best eulogies are sprinkled with tears and laughter. They should be as the person’s life was. There are not too many people whose lives aren’t sprinkled with happy times, sad times, hilarious moments, stressful experiences, momentous occasions, devastating tragedies and many more. A good eulogy will reflect their life experiences even if it doesn’t elaborate on them all. Because, of course, it can’t.

It is amazing the amount of ground that can be covered in six to ten minutes if a eulogy is properly prepared and well delivered.

I usually find that a person’s life story has a certain theme. If I am to prepare and present a eulogy I generally spend an hour or so talking with family members and sometimes other people who knew and loved the deceased person and madly scribble notes most of that time. When I sit down to write their story it is useful to go over the notes and mark them. I will mark the characteristics/attributes of the person with one colour. Then I will see if their life story slots into eras or sections or emphases and mark relevant things accordingly. Things that highlight the outstanding feature of their life and would make a powerful ending, I will mark specially. Basically, I look for the themes of a person’s life.

Most often I do not start with, ‘John was born on 6th February 1945 to Bill and Joan in Perth, WA……’ and work through their life in finely tuned chronological order. I will usually begin with some story, event or characteristic that is a feature of their life and then work their life story into the main body of the eulogy, sometimes in no particular order at all.

Like any good speech, a eulogy needs a strong opening, good structure in the body of the speech and a strong, memorable ending. A good way to end is with a brief summary of what has been said and highlight their family relationships, if they were positive, and they generally are.

I strongly recommend that a family member presents a eulogy. Now that is a BIG ask for many people but with lots of encouragement and as much help as they think they need, there is usually someone who can do it. I don’t always insist on this myself when I am asked to conduct a service and am asked to do the eulogy as well. But I have spoken to one experienced funeral celebrant and seen a documentary of another who both insist the family take this role and are prepared to give all the time, assistance and encouragement required for family to be involved in doing so (See the doco, ‘Zen and the art of dying’). As hard as it can be, it is a very fulfilling and healing thing to do and I would like to get to the stage where I am able to at least strongly urge my families to do their own. A family member or the celebrant standing close by to place a hand on their shoulder and whisper assurance will help them get through the hard, emotional times. People don’t regret speaking at a funeral, they can regret not speaking.

Some of the memorable eulogies presented by families have been shared. All the siblings or all the deceased’s children or grandchildren can follow each other to the lectern and say their piece. And it works very well for them all to stand together and ‘tag team’ the entire presentation. That way they all feel the reassurance of each other and can offer a hand of comfort if needed.

I trust this is of some help if you are struggling to find the courage to present a eulogy for a loved one or know that you may be asked to do one sometime soon down the track. And I’m sure you are aware that there are many more resources online to help you. The most important requirement is to have the people around you who you can rely on to give you every help and encouragement you need.

Edwin Quilliam

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