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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 3 December 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 3 DECEMBER 2016 21 CULTURE in the real world, but it did help me to see that there is a burgeoning industry of alternative deathcare in Australia, and although I didn't yet have the answer to where my place in this movement was, I was inspired to take a small step. So last autumn, I decided to host a Death Café for Dying to Know Day. I wanted to really make the event an accessible, welcoming and vibrant event for Melburnians to come and talk about death with me! I teamed up with an extraordinary palliative care nurse consultant and a young midwife and scholar and we set about trying to find a central space. And that was when it became clear just how far we have to go as a culture in our acceptance of death as a worthy and acceptable topic for discussion. I approached the City of Melbourne to ask for a venue space in kind and got no further than the central switchboard. After stating my purpose there was a long silence on the other end of the phone… and then some stammering. And then a curt “No, there is nobody at City of Melbourne who can help you with that. We don't deal with that here”. And then, I kid you not, the woman put the phone down. Undeterred, I tried calling their community engagement team. More stammering and then a clear no. And so it went on. I must have made about 15 phone calls and emails and was ignored or declined at every turn. Eventually I tried a pub. The good old Edinburgh Castle in Coburg. They said: “Death? OK, will people buy food and drinks?” I said I thought they definitely would. And the chap said “excellent. I'll book you in. So what is it? Some death thing?”. Yes, that's exactly what it is. A death thing! A Death Café to be exact. The day was well attended by people who drank tea or pints of ale, and who were all most keen to just talk about that death thing. ence there that settles in the room, a feeling of something strange, beautiful, emotional, an almost tangible feeling of electricity. And the help is similar too, but not the same! At a birth you tend to make cups of tea for people, but at a death you pour vodka and wine. The parallels are there not only in the space that active birth and death create, but in our propensity to possibly over-medicalise these events. Without doubt both birth and death have been made far more comfortable, safe and supported with the help of medical interventions; however, it is also true that these advances have led to us being ever more removed from the processes and the experience of facing them, dare I say wanting to experience them in their fullness (in conjunction with medical support if required). During the year I helped to care for my friend's dying mother, a woman who was a great inspiration to me, and who urged me to skill up so I could help her down the line, I attended a workshop called 'Midwifing Death: Returning to the Arms of the Great Mother.' There was certainly a lot of patchouli over that weekend, and more than a hint of whale song, things I actively avoided as a birth attendant, however, to be in the presence of people who could sit with the reality of death, their own death and others was transfigurative for me. Learning about ways to care for the dead at home, discovering that it is both possible and legal, was really inspiring. Putting terms to the ideas I had been mulling over like 'home-based death care' and 'family-led funerals'. It was like finding my tribe. This experience didn't make it any easier to really start practising these possibilities After that day another mob called and asked me if I could come and speak with a group about death. I hesitated, not sure if I had the credentials to bust out. I sat and thought about what I could offer. And the answer was immediate. I want to create spaces and places where conversations about death can happen, for people approaching death (NB: that means all of us), to offer information and resources that might assist, and to be available to a dying person and their family if they feel they'd like someone to hold the space around that process. I said yes. After that The Wheeler Centre knocked on my door and so it rolled along. It seems the calling for me at this point is to make and hold the space for you and yours and me and mine to speak about that death thing. I'm planning some workshops on advanced care directives and end of life wishes. I'll get together with people and make living wills, outlining our greatest hits and saying who we really were, so people don't say “Ahh Kimba, she was a great fan of Casablanca”, when actually my favourite film is Ferris Bueller's Day Off! We can support each other in the writing of letters to our kids just in case we do get hit by a bus and miss their 21st or their wedding day. And what about our digital footprint? We might have a workshop where we talk about that and work out whether we want our FB page continue on ... popping up, or have it vanish when we die. These are some of the discussions and tools I want to bring to my community. Beyond talking, though, I have a deep desire within to become a practical helper in bringing death home. The vision I have is of families connecting with professionals who can support the growing desire for those families to be more connected in the deathcare process, whether it be holding vigils, keeping their dead just a little bit longer, to say goodbye and to weep, or to have a wake before the funeral. There are excellent natural funeral directors who work with independent celebrants to assist families to be really involved in the process. I want to do that too. This idea is about a connectedness to death for families, individuals and communities. It's about creating a culture where we address death before, during and after our experiences with it, a reclamation of traditional ways, or adapting the current model around death, which is commercially driven, and which keeps death at a distance. For now, I am happy to plug away at this death thing, and keep facing up to it, even on the days I just want to forget the whole thing. To use the opportunities I am given to hold the space for others to talk and face up too. And to have the humility to really listen to others, so when the time comes to hold space for the next person in their dying, I'll know how to help that person, and the person after that. At the end of it all, perhaps when the time comes, I'll be able to help myself too.
26 November 2016
10 December 2016