Not data. We need a narrative, a story for our time

History has messages for those prepared to listen.

On a program broadcast on The Drum (ABC-TV, Thursday 27 March 2020) one of the guests attempted to introduce some history and some big picture thining into the discussion. 

One of the subjects introduced by host Ellen Fanning was: What we value at this point in time (as governments and the community attempt appropriate responses to the COVID-19 situation).  What follows in a transcript of one of the panel guests: Adam Carrel, Ernst & Young, Perth.

Ellem Fanning  – What we value …

Adam Carrel – After the GFC we didn’t do a good job at learning our lessons and recalibrating our priorities.  We hoped that just everything would return to normal.  Household’s vulnerability was exposed.  Early signs of a philosophical recalibration evaporated.

People are realising they have spent their time on a treadmill this past few years and this professional FOMO – pursuing ends because everybody else is and have neglected some of the more important things in life.

The darkness of the plague in Europe brought the light of the renaissance ultimately.  We might have a community philosophical awakening after this.  That family and love and connectivity are far more important than a lot of things we have been prioritising for a long time.

Shane Wright – We would like to see the thoughts that Adam spoke about that this would  bring a new paradigm to how the world operates.  He’s right – nothing changed after the GFC and I suspect we won’t look back and we won’t change that quickly.

Adam C. – I don’t think we should be surprised by the failure of the public to heed the message, the information.  People have been writing books about post truth for years – truth has become a partisan commodity that people have selected on their own terms.  This is where we find ourselves.  We’ve been allergic to bad memory for a long time.  Bad news – you just don’t talk about these things – find a way for them to disappear of their own accord which is why we find ourselves being so caught by this crisis.  We obsess about data – data, data, data, will set us free – we’ve got plenty of data.  Plenty of curves shared about it.

Everyone has access to them, but, Churchill and Roosevelt brought their nations together not with data, but with a narrative and story.  We need to be emotionally mobilised toward a collective effort.  Data on its own never does it.

Shane W. – what’s the difference between a leg wax and a short back and sides.

Ellen Fanning– John Daley from the Gratton Institute said the other day – it’s public pressure that focus’s government to take stricter measures. – Is it going to be that business is going to lock us down  — to Adam C.

Adam C. – The citizens have to take responsibility for this – we are a well-educated, relatively well remunerated country. We should have been able to act with a degree of self-sufficiency on this.  I know you want me to do some more homework on my citizen purchase COVID recovery bond idea, so I won’t talk about it, but I want to mobilise community intellect and community wealth to tackle this problem.  The time will come if the situation doesn’t work when the community is going to have to come together. We are going have to have a redistribution of private wealth towards this problem just like we did in war time if runs for too much longer and household can’t cope.  We can do this.  We should be smart enough to figure this out on our own.  There’s a great meme – I’m sure you’ve seen this:

Our grandparents had to go to war to fight for our way of life and all you have to do is sit on the couch.  You can do this.


We’ve become complacent and we’ve become dependent on others to tell us what to do.  The notion of the common good and for the betterment of the group have taken a back seat. 

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Lockdown – The birds are singing

People, Lockdown poem 1

Here we are wondering what nature will confront us with next. Are we prepared?

In these times of uncertainty it’s nice to know that there are still some things we can fall back on when confusion seems to be all around.  One of them is the inspiration that nature is able to stir within the human spirit.  Here’s a contribution to keep us on an even keel, forwarded from our colleagues at Natural Transitions …

Listen, The Birds Are Singing!
  A Message of Love and Hope from Ireland
on Saint Patrick’s Day 
March 17, 2020
Shared from all of us at Natural Transitions,
during these times when we all need reminders of the good in our world.

Song bird     


by Br. Richard Hendrick,
priest-friar of the Irish branch of the Capuchin Franciscan Order.

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.  
Yes there is panic buying.  
Yes there is sickness.  
Yes there is even death.  
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise  
You can hear the birds again.  
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet  
The sky is no longer thick with fumes  
But blue and grey and clear.  
They say that in the streets of Assisi  
People are singing to each other  
Across the empty squares,  
Keeping their windows open  
So that those who are alone  
May hear the sounds of family around them.  
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland  
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.  
Today a young woman I know  
Is busy spreading fliers with her number  
Through the neighbourhood  
So that the elders may have someone to call on.  
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples  
Are preparing to welcome  
And shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary  
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting  
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a New way  
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality 
To how big we really are.  
To how little control we really have.  
To what really matters.  
To Love.  
So we pray and we remember that  
Yes there is fear.  
But there does not have to be hate.  
Yes there is isolation.  
But there does not have to be loneliness.  
Yes there is panic buying.  
But there does not have to be meanness.  
Yes there is sickness.  
But there does not have to be disease of the soul  
Yes there is even death.  
But there can always be a rebirth of love.  
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.  
Today, breathe.  
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic  
The birds are singing again  
The sky is clearing,  
Spring is coming,  
And we are always encompassed by Love.  
Open the windows of your soul  
And though you may not be able  
To touch across the empty square,  
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When unprepared for dying in ones sleep, the death admin jobs become that much more onerous

What to do when there’s a sudden death in the family.  More to the point what to do when someone dies in their sleep in your own home when you’re least expecting it.

This is what happened to Emma Grey as reported in this story: Death admin is something few people think about. Here’s why you should  by Sophie Kesteven.  (ABC News, Friday 14 February 2020).

Says Kesteven: ‘Before she needed one, Emma Grey had never thought to make a plan for what to do in the event of the sudden death of a loved one.’

That was until the 45-year-old mother-of-three checked on her husband one afternoon while he was off work sick with the flu.

“He just seemed to be asleep,” Emma Grey recalled. 

One minute everything was normal and then the next it was very different and she wasn’t prepared, at all.

With a death comes a lot of other matters that have to be dealt with.  The expected grief and emotional swings are compounded by what Emma Grey said was: ‘the administrative side of death’ and the toll it had on her family. It’s something she believes most people are similarly unprepared for.  

Her husband, Jeff Grey died without a will, writes Kesteven: ‘so Ms Grey had to navigate the legalities and administration, which included her late husband’s bank accounts, mortgage information, funeral expenses, electricity providers, subscriptions, mobile phone contracts, car registration, licences, memberships, taxes, and countless passwords.’

“I don’t think we talk about this sort of thing. I think our culture is really quite wary and scared of death, dying, and grief,” she said. 

And she’s dead right (excuse the pun). 

Talking can make your death easier on the people you love… read now.

Get the full story here: Death admin, it’s time to get sorted   and listen to a Pineapple Project podcast here:  Pineapple Project – there’s a body what next

More ideas about getting prepared at these sites:   What to do when someone dies – Choice      How to get prepared for your own death        Here’s how to prepare including a check list      End of life planning in 16 easy steps      The It’s OK to die checklist      Planning ahead toolbox


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The funeral as a community undertaking

“The idea of funeral insurance is ridiculous, because we are all going to die,” says Jenny Briscoe-Hough, founder of Tender Funerals based at Port Kembla on the NSW south coast. 

In: Tender touch stops ‘funeral poverty’ from raising spectre of hard times, Julie Power (SMH 1-2 February 2020) writes, ‘Tender will offer a funeral saver plan, developed after meetings with the country’s consumer watchdogs, as an alternative to funeral insurance.’

Tender Funerals is a not-for-profit community operated enterprise that relies on volunteers for much of the services it provides.

“It is empowering. It is telling people what is possible, and once they know what is possible, they absolutely do know what they want. What is apparent is you can change culture within one funeral. Once people have that experience, they don’t want another,” says Ms Briscoe-Hough.

Tender Funerals has plans to offer a service that will be community run as a social franchise. From Perth to Port Macquarie people are expressing an interest in the new approach.  Read the full story at: Tender touch

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Lifting the shroud can lead to using a shroud

People, Ranjana-Srivastava-1There are now hundreds of women who are charting a new course in how we do death. This is the story of four of those women who  are at the forefront of the positive death movement and their reasoning about how we can take back a little control over the way we cross that final frontier and why it’s good for our health and well-being within a broader family context.

“By exploring death and grief and loss we actually uncover purpose and opportunity, strategies and insights into how to live better,” says Vashti Whitfield who explores this in her Matters of Life and Death workshops in Sydney and Melbourne.  See the School of Life for more.   She notes that: “We don’t, as other cultures and subcultures do, deal with death in a celebratory way.”

Jenny Briscoe-Hough from Port Kembla is an advocate working in this space, has done for years. She is the motivating energy behind Tender Funerals – a community owned and operated funeral provider on the NSW south coast.   She reminds us that:

‘You must notify a doctor to obtain a death certificate, but you don’t have to contact a funeral director if you don’t want to. You can keep a body at home for up to five days (unless it’s an unexpected death), build a coffin, wash and transport the body yourself.’   If not a coffin then a shroud is an option, allowing for a temporary coffin for transport to the service or place of interment.

Ruby Lohman, is another person offering services in this field, in the form of Death Dinner Party’s.  Read more at this linkDeath Dinner Party. 

As the stepdaughter of a funeral director there were no hush hush conversations about death in her formative years, it was part of daily life. She wants to reconstruct that same familiarity with the subject in the wider community.   Lohman says: “Everyone’s been waiting to have these conversations and here’s the space where they can do it.”

The dinner idea is not new. In the USA these events have been held for some time where they are known as Death Over Dinner.  The Lohman events are a variation on this theme.  

The fourth featured person in this story is Dr Ranjana Srivastava.  Over a 20-plus-year career this Melbourne based oncologist and internal medical specialist has had to deliver the sad news of approaching death to scores of patients and family members. Her book A Better Death – Conversations about the Art of Living and Dying Well, chronicles the variety of experiences one has when working in this field.

Ranjava recommends that every family talk to their loved ones and friends about the funeral they’d like and their goals for end-of-life care.  And as we have said over and over again, part of this process includes the preparation of an Advanced Care Directive or Plan.

This is a short summary of a feature story by Trudie McConnochie who writes:Death is one of life’s few inevitabilities, yet most of us live as if we’ll  be here forever.”

For more about these four women read the full story, Let’s talk about death, by Trudie McConnochie, Australian Women’s Weekly, January 2020. 

To get started with that all important conversation download the discussion starter here …  dying to talk

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A sense of purpose and meaning in the world of the dead

It’s an age old question: what drives or motivates us to change direction? To move away from a previous, perhaps ho hum existence or perhaps harmful behaviour with real consequences, to adopt a new, hopefully, more meaningful way of living?

As you can imagine there’s no one size fits all.  What does it for one person, doesn’t do it the next person.  But there can be common themes that wake us up from our business as usual ways of living.  This story by Alice MoldovanAs a Muslim Mariam lives the ‘five before five’ — and finds meaning and balance as a death doula (ABC Radio National Soul Search) is a bit more dramatic than most, but it serves the purpose for this post.  

“I collided head on with a truck, the car caught on fire. It was a huge emergency operation,” says Mariam Ardati.  It was one of those car accidents “you think nobody could have survived.”

‘When she crawled out of the wreckage of her car, Mariam was amazed to see that she didn’t have a single scratch on her.

The close brush with death turned her thoughts to what would have happened to her body under Islamic tradition if she had in fact, died.’

The experience prompted a spiritual journey to reconnect with the Sunni Muslim faith she had grown up with.

“I was largely self-centred up until that accident happened,” she told RN’s Soul Search, “and it helped me find purpose and meaning.”

For the last 15 years she has helped other people in the Muslim community through the transition from life into death — as a doula.  Mariam supports the dying and their families in the lead up to death, then leads the ritual care for the body of the deceased.

Muslim burial rituals have a “very human touch”, says Professor Mohamad Abdalla, referring to the practice of men going down into a grave to lower a body in with their hands, sans coffin (without a coffin, in these cases a shroud).

Much of Mariam’s energy is directed to increasing death literacy in the community — helping people become accustomed to the idea of dying.

She encourages the same open approach at home with her own children, in a “mother-daughter bonding exercise”.

“I have cut my own [death] shroud, and I had my daughter by my side with the measuring tape saying, ‘No mum, that’s too short, we need to make it longer this way’.”

It’s a sense of purpose that leads to an understanding that “your actions have consequences, and that you’re part of a larger social context”.

A Muslim is encouraged “to take advantage of what’s known as the five before five,” she explains.

“Your health before sickness, your life before you’re overcome with death, your free time before you become busy, your youth before your old age and your wealth before you become poor.”

She says she’s glad her own encounter with a near-fatal accident showed her that she wasn’t invincible.  Rather, it gave her a sense of purpose and meaning.

“I didn’t find that in the world of the living — I found it in the world of the dead.”

Get the full story here:  Living the five before five life    Listen here: Audio at this link


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Beware: fearmongering, scare tactics

We have said it before and will say it again, when it comes to funerals it’s a case of buyer beware.  Just when you would think that the most caring and understanding people  are only a phone call away, it can be anything but.

Funeral insurance is a case in point. This is a $300 million industry with more than 750,000 Australians signing up.

From our perspective there is no doubt about it. Avoid this product  at all costs, otherwise expect it to cost, big time. As pensioners Lyn and Ted Brown who signed up with Seniors Insurance discovered they got caught out by rising premiums.  “You’re just paying out dead money,” Lyn Brown said. The couple claim they weren’t aware their premiums would rise.  More from msn news:  Premiums rise. Need for tougher regulations

We were recently alerted, yet again, to the typical marketing techniques used by the funeral industry to get people to sign up to plans that we believe are unnecessary.  The technique has a number of steps that go something like this:

Feed fear of rising prices by noting how costs have gone up over the last 5 or so years;

Suggest that by taking out insurance now, you will avoid any future price rises;

Steer people in the direction of a small selection of companies on the basis that you can’t trust anyone other than the people writing the very story about price rises, giving the impression they play no part in funeral costs going up;

Offer to provide independent quotes there and then;

Suggest that it would be best to sign up straight away before you forget and you miss out on the current offer.

Thousands of people have been sold this story.  The sales pitch doesn’t say how financially rewarding this approach is for the funeral industry – but you can be sure it’s a booming business product.  

Our thoughts on this are plain and simple.  Don’t be frightened.  Take a deep breath.  Close the site.  Walk away.  Make a cup or tea / coffee.  Let it wash over you. Mute the sound if it’s on the television.  Turn the page if it’s in a magazine or newspaper.  Delete the page if it comes as an email.  Close the page if it comes as a website.

It’s not rocket science. Steer clear.  Who’s in charge?  Make sure it’s you.  Signing up to a product (and that’s what it is, a product) that’s left a lot of people worse off than they ever expected, is not the way to plan for anyone’s funeral regardless of their circumstances.

If you haven’t got sufficient money in the bank now:

  1. open a dedicated account for that purpose, and make regular deposits equivalent to what the insurance premiums would be, or
  2. take steps to ensure your estate is sufficiently cashed up so that family can pay the bills when the time comes, without any hassles.  And while we’re on the subject:
  3. beware of prepaid funeral plans as well.  They are often suggested as an alternative to insurance, but again we – along with other advocates – simply say, have a dedicated bank account for the purpose or be sufficiently cashed up in your estate to pay for whatever kind of funeral is appropriate at the time.  In other words don’t get trapped or locked into one funeral provider, which limits family and friends in terms of choice in the future, especially when the future might be 20 or 30 years hence. 

Now, having done what is in YOUR best interests, relax.  Take heart that you have done the right thing by your next of kin.  And then, share the facts. Caution others. Strongly recommend they beware of the hard sell; the aim being that they won’t be sucked in by the fearmongering and the scare tactics. 

For more click on the links below, which, by the way, don’t include the story referred to at the beginning of this post – we have no intention of giving these people any additional readers. – Homeless mother storyFuneral insurance scam    /  Financial Rights Legal Centre: Why you don’t need funeral insurance   /   ASICs Money Smart financial guide: Funeral insurance








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