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.

News.com.au – 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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Making peace with transience

Transience, flowerAnd how do we keep a balanced outlook on life?   If you believe the song from Fiddler on the Roof, there is one word for it – TRADITION.

And how do we keep ourselves from falling into the trap of being overly self centred?  Well it might be worth keeping an open mind that includes making peace with transience. 

In: Most modern funerals make you feel worse, but my sister’s was different, Elizabeth Farrelly (SMH, November 9-10, 2019) suggests that “… we could learn much from other more earth-centred, less denialist cultures, including those that have cultivated Australia for 65,000 years.”

Get the full story hereBetter way to say final goodbye

In a related story: How to say goodbye for the last time, Katherine Fenney, (SMH, October 3 2014) Transience, mushroom

But the point is: We talk about it. We talk about the end, because without it, there can be no beginning, and there is no story in between. And what’s the point of living if you don’t have a good story to tell? Too many people are afraid to confront the very thing that unites humanity: The End.

More at this link: Say goodbye for the last time

 

 

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Coffin ready (tick). Not shying away from the fact we die

If the idea of having a coffin stashed away in the back shed freaks you out, then read no further. Because this coffin is not hidden away, it’s on show.People Bertran Cadart coffin 2

This is the story about French-Australian Bertrand Cadart, who, by his own telling,  has led “an incredible” life.  He is now doing what most people would think is not only incredible, it is more like crazy – certainly something they would not entertain (if that is the right way of putting it).

ABC reporter Jacqui Street tells his story in:  Coffin in the lounge room a reminder that ‘I’ll go with a bang’  (ABC Sunshine Coast, 29 Oct 2019).  

The 71-year-old organised a living wake and his own burial plot after a terminal cancer diagnosis; those advocating for better community discussions around death have applauded his approach, says Street.

Now, following a terminal cancer diagnosis, Mr Cadart has installed a large red coffin at his home in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

“It’s not because I was morbid or anything like that,” he said.

“It was more about my children. I thought, ‘OK, I am lucky enough to at least have an idea of when I’m going to die’, so I have no excuse not to try to make it as easy as possible for my two children.

“Especially with the mechanics of it all. Funerals are incredibly stressful, very expensive, and it has to be done very quickly, because you can’t say, ‘Oh well, we’ll take six months to bury Father’ — Jesus, pee-eew!”

There’s no beating around the bush with this 71-year-old who said he liked the idea that the coffin would take about nine months to break down in the earth.People Bertran Cadart coffin 1

“I think it’s good that you come from nothingness and then one day you end up being a shrimp in some female womb, and you take months before [becoming] a little person,” he said.

“And I figured out it should take about the same time for when you’ve done your dash to go back to nothingness.”

I bought a cardboard coffin because I wanted something that would dissolve quickly,” he said.

Mr Cadart said seeing the coffin in his home actually helped him remain positive about his illness, by reminding him that he was still alive.

Read the full story here:  Red coffin in the lounge room

 

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Women are challenging traditional funerary practices

Poeple, women and deathWomen have always been at the forefront when it comes to caring for the sick and dying. And there was also a time when women were front and centre of the death industry, though it was hardly called an industry back then, which is not to undervalue the commitment of these women ‘workers’. It was due to their voluntary community values that made it vastly different to the commercial profit motivated industry of today. 

Back then, the ‘industry’ was more about the industriousness of the women who went about caring for the dead and caring for the immediate family and friends.  Some years ago this changed.  This story by Sarah Chavez: The Story of Death Is the Story of Women (Yes, Issue 91, 2019) charts how another change is taking place and how women are reclaiming their roles as the most appropriate people to lead us to a better place including a better death.

Chavez reports that: Olivia Bareham … “is just one of many women who are disrupting the death paradigm by challenging our traditional funerary practices and advocating for transparency, eco-friendly options, and family involvement. While White patriarchy has spent the past hundred years shutting the doors and pulling the curtain—obfuscating and profiting from one of life’s most significant milestones—modern women are questioning whom our current system is serving and telling the funeral industry that its time is up.People, Oliviabareham

Olivia Bareham has long sought to ease some of the fear and suffering surrounding death and dying.  In 2005 she founded The Sacred Crossings Institute for Conscious Dying, where she educates and and empowers families to care for their deceased loved ones and create meaningful home funerals.  Along with Caitlin Doughty, mortician, author and moderator of the websites: Order of the Good Death and Ask the Mortician they are two of those shedding light on the ‘mysteries’ of death and driving a wedge into what has been a closed shop industry.  Chavez says:

Feminist death advocates argue that the $20 billion funeral industry thrives on our society’s reluctance to face, or even think about, death. Although our fear of death is nothing new, our modern denial of death is.

Our current unfamiliarity with natural death has become more informed by horror tropes—including the dead returning to haunt us, or corpses suddenly reanimating to grasp at the living—than by facts. According to Ernest Becker, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death, awareness of our mortality haunts us and motivates us. Becker argues that our actions are motivated by this fear, and in a desperate effort to mitigate our existential terror of ceasing to exist, we seek out distractions. We engage in what he calls “immortality projects” that help us establish legacies that will live on after we are dead, often through our work or by having children.

Because of this fear, and the established systems that shield us from healthy engagement with death, we’ve become death-and grief-illiterate. As a result, we have industry-led funerals that leave little room for meaningful family involvement and require costly products and services that are often unnecessary and can harm the environment.

Our recent cultural shift to ignoring or immediately disposing of our dead takes us further away from the reality of dying and death.

In countries like the US and Australia, says Caitlin Doughty, we have “created a hard boundary between ourselves and death, [but] for most of the world a softer line exists, creating space for the living to work through grief, begin to comprehend death, and come to terms with the fact that the bonds we’ve established with others do not dissipate at the moment of death.”  Chavez sums up with these words …

In the U.S. [read Australia], we’ve handed over this sacred space surrounding the corpse to the funeral industry. The women reclaiming this space are acting in resistance.

It is clear that our society’s current denial of death is not working. 

With women leading the way, we can create a future of death care that will improve not only how future generations die, but how they live. This is a legacy, and a feminist one at that, for which we can all be proud.

For the full story click on the link: Women and the story of death

Within an Australian context the most outspoken advocates for more community involvement and less industry intervention, include Zenith Virago (Death Walker) and  Molly Carlisle (Death Talker). For more click on the links:    Natural Death Care Centre   and  Death Talker

 

 

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You don’t have to sit in a lecture theatre to do this university course.

People, Naomi RichardsIf you have ever felt the need to be part of a bigger conversation than the ones taking place in your neighbourhood or state or even Australia, then here’s an opportunity to be part of a world-wide discussion about death and dying.  It costs nothing but a few hours a week.

The course writers note that:

With increasingly ageing populations, we are living longer but dying more slowly. You will discover the patterns and global trends taking place in palliative care, and explore these new approaches from a social science and humanities perspective.

Subjects will include:

  • Why is end of life care important, who provides it, and what is ‘dying’?
  • ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ dying
  • Hospital care at the end of life
  • How communities around the world are creating new ways to deliver palliative care
  • How ‘compassionate communities’ are forming to work alongside service providers
  • The world-wide interest in group conversations such as ‘Death Café’.
  • Many people want to take direct control over how they die. Where is assisted dying legal and what are its implications?
  • Rational suicide – an emerging response to the desire for direct control over the manner of one’s death, especially among older people.
  • How modern individuals seek to ‘curate’ their dying process and the rituals that follow it.

End of Life Care: Challenges and Innovation has been developed by the End of Life Studies Group based at the University of Glasgow, the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world.  It’s free and available online.

To find out more, click on the link: Future Learn: End of life care

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