Coffin club community delivers quality endings

It’s one of the longest running Coffin Clubs in Australia and it’s one of the most vibrant. Not the kind of word one tends to find associated with an end of life group, but it’s an accurate description for this hands on practical method of dealing with the inevitable.

Some coffins made at Ulverstone’s Community Coffin Club have been by friends and supporters. This one is Care Beyond Cure secretary Lynne Jarvis’s own woven model.(ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)

This is the story about Community Coffin Club members at Ulverstone, northern Tasmania, who have come together to celebrate five years of a club and a concept that has inspired many others facing their mortality around Australia and the world.

In: At the Community Coffin Club at Ulverstone, living and dying well are part of life, Rick Eaves (ABC Northern Tasmania, Wed 11 Aug 2021) tells how “At this coffin club, laughter, music, food, cute dogs and shared experience lay the foundations on which to build a serious understanding of “death literacy”.

It’s all about knowing what happens when you die, what happens before and after you take your last breath, and what it all means for family and friends.

Organiser Lynne Jarvis says it’s all about educating, supporting and empowering people. 

“The idea is that individuals can make their own coffin and family and friends can help with that. In itself it is a beautiful, empowering process,” she said.

“But we also have our art and death literacy space where anyone can come — they can bring their knitting and just say ‘hi’.”

Lynne is also secretary of Care Beyond Cure, a group that organises therapy and respite days for chronically and terminally ill people and their carers.

She said the group aimed to ease the financial and emotional burdens of those facing the challenges of severe illness or life’s final chapter.

Care Beyond Cure is also in the process of establishing Tender Funerals Tasmania, the first not-for-profit, community-owned and led funeral home for the state.

Good news stories are worth passing around the traps, and this is one them. Read all of Ricks news post here: Community Coffin Club for living and dying well as part of life.

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The NORM and the NORO

Here are a couple of new acronyms for us to get our heads around.

A clue or two probably won’t be sufficient to provide the four words involved, but the image will go a long way towards giving us a good idea.

A NORM is a Natural Organic Reduction Manager and a NORO is a Natural Organic Reduction Operator. They are both positions within the Recompose business which is offering the service of body composting in the USA.

Death – though heart-wrenching – can be beautiful. Its rituals can be meaningful, and disposition of the body can be gentle and natural.

Recompose is an ecological death care company based in Seattle, Washington. When we open Recompose will offer the service of natural organic reduction (NOR), where human bodies are converted into soil. We are building the Recompose model to be an alternative to the existing funeral industry, offering an authentic, participatory experience for families and a natural return to the earth for the dead.

Natural organic reduction is a managed thermophilic biological process used to convert organic material, including human remains, into a more stable earthy organic material that is unrecognizable as human remains.

More information at the link: Become soil when you die

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Conversations best had well before an emergency

We recently received an email from The GroundSwell Project with this reminder message:

Picture credit: The GroundSwell Project

We believe that end-of-life conversations are best done WAY BEFORE Emergency.

We advocate for pretty much any other place.

Lounge rooms. Over dinner tables. During long walks. Over soup. With cake.

A hand-written note, delivered with love, will also get the job done.

All this is good stuff, provided we get around to it. Good intentions are not sufficient. Putting off won’t get the job done. Resolve is what is needed and then taking the opportunities when they arise.

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Decision making for dying with dignity and for care in later life

There’s a new campaign to introduce voluntary assisted dying in NSW.

Alex Greenwich, the independent Member for Sydney, (pictured here with Greg Piper, the independent Member for Lake Macquarie), has released his draft Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 for consultation before he introduces it into parliament later in August or in September.

A lot has changed since voluntary assisted dying failed to pass the Legislative Council by one vote in 2017.

“Four years ago, no other state had progressed with voluntary assisted dying, now every other state has,” Mr Greenwich told AAP.

That drastically boosts the chances of success this time, he says, as NSW has “tried and tested” laws interstate to model theirs off.

“(They have) been able to show that a lot of the concerns of opponents are actually not borne out in reality,” he said.

Under Mr Greenwichs’s bill, voluntary assisted dying will be accessible to adults with a terminal illness that will cause death within six months – or 12 months for neuroegenerative conditions – and where suffering cannot be tolerably relieved. A person must have decision-making capacity and be acting voluntarily, without coercion, and must undergo two independent eligibility assessments by two doctors.

The draft bill has the support of Dying with Dignity NSW and Go Gentle Australia. A survey of 2344 Health Services Union members found 89 per cent supported the union joining the NSW Voluntary Assisted Dying Alliance to help advance the draft laws. Council of the Ageing (COTA) NSW has also stated its support.

For more check out these articles: NSW to consider assisted dying legislation and Plans for new law in NSW

On a not unrelated note, it’s worth thinking in a holistic way about life, especially those end times, that many of us think will never come. So it’s disappointing to report that: Talking about these end of life (EOL) issues is still a subject that is avoided by many people.

Seventy per cent of Australians aged 65-plus are sidestepping the opportunity to control their EOL care, with men less likely to plan than women. This is perhaps surprising when we consider that many men spend a considerable amount of time and effort working on other aspects of their lives, such as retirement planning and wills.

We really should consider EOL planning as part of a total Advance Health Care Plan (AHCP) package and all of this as part of wills and what happens next, regardless of what age we are.

There’s no lack of information to help get started. All that’s needed is a call to Advance Care Planning Australia on 1300 208 582 or log onto advancecareplanning.org.au

The Booklet with a template form at the back is available here: Health Advance Care Directive

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Compassionate end-of-life care: Go Gentle Australia strategy success

We’ve been keeping an eye on progress with Voluntary Assisted Dying in Australia, for a long time. We’ve reported on the mixed success made by various groups, but none more successful than Go Gentle Australia.

The efforts by many hundreds of people over many years while raising public awareness were unsuccessful in bringing about change at a policy or legislative level. Enter Go Gentle Australia, and things began to change – for the better. This post taken from a We’re 5 report, highlights how important it is to think outside the square, to bring ‘new eyes’ to the existing situation, to adopt strategies that are known to work in other quarters.

This is how we understand the Go Gentle Australia approach works: a 5 fold strategy that focuses on the core issues, ensuring that the time and energy devoted to the campaign is not wasted.

  1. Law-makers — politicians, who vote on legislation,
  2. Advisors to decision-makers — public officials who politicians receive advice from,
  3. Advocates and Lobbyists – people who are influential in presenting a case for or against a particular policy or policy change (in this instance medical and religious leaders),
  4. Opinion leaders — media and feature writers who can impact on public opinion,
  5. Community at large — public voice who need to be on-board and in favour of the policy such that it will be broadly accepted and that politicians know will be supportive if they vote in favour of the proposed new legislation

Join us in celebrating our 5th birthday!

At this critical juncture in the campaign for Voluntary Assisted Dying in Australia, we’ve been reflecting on how far we’ve come – and how much you’ve helped us. Thank you!

Five years ago, Andrew Denton founded Go Gentle. His vision was to have better conversations about end of life choice, including the option of voluntary assisted dying.

Prior to 2016, there had been 50 attempts to pass VAD laws – but none was successful. MPs were reluctant to change the status quo, despite overwhelming public support for the reform. This meant no Australian had access to legal Voluntary Assisted Dying.

Andrew said at the time: “I wanted to inform the debate and I wanted to inflame the debate. I wanted politicians and doctors to stop sitting on their hands while Australians needlessly suffer.”

New tactics were needed.

In Victoria, Go Gentle adopted a new approach to elevate the public debate:

We directly challenged medical and religious resistance to change; we amplified the voices of dying people, too often ignored; and we provided meticulously researched, evidence-based resources to MPs to convince them to support this law. These inlcuded the book The Damage Done, describing the trauma across Australia in the absence of a VAD law; Ebooks that distilled the growing body of evidence from around the world about why voluntary assisted dying legislation is needed and safe; and, the influential Better off Dead podcast.

The new approach worked.

In 2017, Victoria made history by passing its landmark assisted dying law.

Fast forward to 2021 and almost 12 million Australians in Victoria, WA, Tasmania and SA have seen their governments pass laws for compassionate end of life choice.

We’re getting closer – but our work is not complete. Your unwavering support and generosity have helped us transform this debate in Australia.

Yet in our fifth anniversary year, we need your help more than ever to get legislation over the line for the other half of Australians still waiting on these laws.

NSW and Queensland will debate bills later this year – with pressure building in the Territories. These campaigns are set to be the toughest.

Overall, it is a good news story as we mark our fifth anniversary – MPs attitudes are shifting and more doctors and medical groups are coming out in support of end of life choice. Together we can keep the momentum going.
We are very grateful for your support — Kiki Paul, CEO.

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Expanding our understanding of grief to include nature and the earth

Grief and loss can involve more than the human species. In this story Let’s Talk About Reef Grief, Marta Zaraska (Discover Magazine, May 2021) shares her concerns about loss as it relates to nature and the earth – in particular coral reefs.

Scientists already have several terms for what she is experiencing. Some call it climate anxiety. Others call it pre-traumatic stress disorder or solastalgia – distress over seeing the natural environment negatively transformed.

One thing is clear; worry and fear surrounding global warming is sharply increasing, taking a toll on many.

Through various studies scientists have found that some people ‘are deeply affected by feelings of loss, helplessness and frustration due to their inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change.’

Scientists have also found that there is almost zero correlation between ecological worry and general anxiety or any specific personality traits. Susan Clayton, environmental psychologist at the College of Wooster in Ohio, compares it to anxiety felt before a job interview – it makes perfect sense, simply because there are plenty of real reasons to worry.

So how do climate researchers cope? They often use dark humour and develop a thick skin to keep going. They also play up the positives – focusing on the meaning they get from their jobs, being part of a community and their love for science.

Neville Ellis, environmental scientist at University of Western Australia investigated ecological grief among farmers in rural Australia and Inuit communities in Canada.  He discovered that eco-grief often comes in three varieties: grief over physical losses (like flood devastation or deforestation), grief associated with loss of identity, and grief over anticipated future ecological losses.

“People might feel the grief but it’s not legitimized in society”, Ellis says.

There are no monuments for the Amazon forest, no last rites for extinct species.
Picture at right: Clearing trees for a Palm Oil plantation in Malaysia.

Coming together is important and talking to like-minded people. Having mourning rituals as they did in Iceland in 2019 when the community came together for a funeral for a melted glacier.

Other ideas are to: write letters to decision-makers; engage in the community to make it more climate-friendly; express your emotions; take pleasure in nature; focus on your own health and engage in wishful thinking – hoping that things will somehow work out.

And we need role models for how to talk about our climate worries and how to deal with them. ‘We also need to start discussing these issues openly, admitting our fears without shame.  We should do it together, almost like group therapy.  So, I’ll go first: Hello, my name is Marta, and I have climate anxiety.  I’m scared about the future of our planet.  I’m grieving.’

Read the full story at: Let’s Talk About Reef Grief

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Where to bury the dead – future endings exercises the minds of more than cemetery operators

Some of the country’s best known cemeteries are at capacity and there’s a looming crisis over where our dead will be buried. 

In this program on ABC Radio National, Julian Morrow speaks with three people who are applying some lateral thinking for the families needing to lay their loved ones to rest, either literally in the form of body disposal or placing cremains following a cremation. The trio talk about alternatives to traditional burials and cremations and discuss culture, religion, public spaces and death tech. 

Green or natural burial, Aquamation or alkaline hydrolysis, composting via Recompose and other options are canvassed.

Guests

Hannah Gould, Australian Death Studies Society and part of the DeathTech team at the University of Melbourne 

Robert Pitt, Chief Executive Officer at Adelaide Cemeteries Authority

Sam Holleran, Researcher, University of Melbourne working on planning of cemeteries in greater Melbourne.

Listen to this fascinating conversation that took place on Sunday Extra, June 6 at 9.30am as part of the regular Round Table segment. Check the link below or search for Sunday Extra and click on the appropriate segment …… What’s the future of burials

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A progress report on VAD

In March our post referenced the situation in NSW where the state is running out of grave sites.

Today what is a grave situation for many people is they don’t have the choice to access voluntary medically assisted dying. Thankfully the good folks of Victoria have better access than most other Australians. This story was broadcast on ABC Radio National on Wednesday 5 May, 2021. Our host is Paul Barclay.

Victoria was the first state in Australia to legalise Voluntary Assisted Dying. The law came into effect in 2019.  Western Australian and Tasmania have now passed similar laws, but they are yet to take effect.  After nearly two years of operation in Victoria, how are the laws working, and where is the debate at?  Paul Barclay asks a panel of speakers.

Presented by The Wheeler Centre. Recorded on April 20, 2021.

Speakers:

Andrew Denton – Television broadcaster and producer; founder of Go Gentle Australia; advocate for better end of life choices in Australia.

Justice Betty King QC – Chairperson, Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board; former judge, Supreme Court of Victoria.

Associate Professor Phillip Parente – medical oncologist, Director, Cancer Services, Eastern Health.

Ron Poole – idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis sufferer; has elected to pursue Voluntary Assisted Dying, after receiving a prognosis of having less than 6 months left to live.

Duration: 55min 39sec

Listen to the program at this link: Voluntary Assisted Dying: how are Victorian laws working?

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It’s what you could call a grave situation

What to do when the land required for burying our dead starts to run out. To put it frankly, what we mean of course, is the land that we’d like to allocate for the purpose of disposing of dead bodies. All other creatures when they die, for the most part are ‘buried’ on the surface. What the Tibetans refer to as air burial – where the creatures of the sky and the night are invited to consume the body parts and so the cycle of life continues on uninterrupted.

We have chosen to slow this process down by placing bodies under the ground, where it takes considerably longer for decomposition to be completed. And we’re tried to memorialise the site by setting it aside with headstones and land locked away from being available for any other purpose. It’s an unrealistic mental construct that can’t be perpetuated in the real ecological world.

So we have what we have, a situation where the land able to be set aside for cemeteries is running out. In this report from the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA): NSW is running out of graves: review, (CPSA 17 March 2021), a spokesperson writes:

A REVIEW of the NSW Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2013 has come up with recommendations for sweeping changes.

The review has tried to deal with three issues that beset the funeral industry: (1) shortage of burial land, (2) funeral price gauging, and (3) lack of industry oversight.

You could say that issue (3) is the root cause of issues (1) and (2).

The shortage of burial land in NSW is caused by the very optimistic assumption we could, in perpetuity, keep burying people in perpetual graves without getting to the point where there would be no land left for graves, in particular in Sydney and other urban areas.

Calling it a shortage is a bit misleading, because we’ve actually run out.

The review recommends the following to resolve this shortage:

The NSW Government immediately acquires land for new cemeteries and crematoria in Sydney.

The review also recommends that old cemeteries, provided they’re not full, can continue to offer perpetual tenure burials.

And the review also recommends that Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW (CCNSW) becomes a real regulator for the funeral industry as a whole, not just for the cemetery and crematorium parts of it.

Read the full story at this link: NSW is running out of grave sites

And the report is here: Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW

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Turning a blind eye to reality can get us into lots of bother

In A fraction too much friction, Samantha Trenoweth (WW, March 2021) asks, how dangerous are conspiracy theories?

Good seemingly rational people can get caught up in the unrealistic realm that is conspiracy theories.

Writes Trenoweth:

‘While no particular personality is more susceptible than another to conspiracy theories, there are types of thinking that can make us more easily misled.  According to Dr Carmen Lawrence, from the School of Psychological Science at the University of Western Australia (UWA), people who become absorbed by conspiracy theories have a greater tendency to engage in what’s called System One Thinking. 

“They are more likely to jump to conclusions, using Heuristics and biases, to have an emotional tone to their level of understanding, an unwillingness to embrace scientific explanations,” she told a forum hosted by The Conversation and the University of South Australia.

It’s important to remember that: Most conspiracy theories are internally incoherent.  So what’s the danger zone.

There was a time when belief in conspiracy theories was an amusing eccentricity.  But in a pandemic, in a global environmental crisis, when democratic elections are at stake, spiraling disinformation seems a little dangerous.  Should we be concerned? 

Well yes, for a number of reasons.  The first is that, according to Professor Ulrich Ecker, also from the School of Psychological Science at the UWA , “there are malicious actors out there who use social media as a tool to destablise societies.”

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist from the University of Bristol, says: “If everyone around me thinks the Earth is round, I’m quite sensibly going to believe the same thing.  That worked really well while we didn’t have social media because, if I’m the only one in my village who believes the earth is flat, chances are everyone’s telling me I’m the village idiot and I will be quiet about it.  But the moment you have Facebook with a billion users, I can go online and it doesn’t matter how absurd my opinion is – bam – I’m surrounded by hundreds of other people who share that view and my belief is reinforced.  This can only happen on social media.  In real life you’d never meet those other people because there are so few out there.”

This should be something we take into account when we come across ideas that don’t stack up with common sense, sound science or what is in the best interests of the larger community.  This is not to say we should be blind followers of what might be the official thinking of the day.  There is no lack of evidence where authorities have got it wrong over the years and we would have done better if we’d paid attention to those who cautioned against blind faith.  Blindly following Kings and Queens, the church, political parties and vested industry promotions, have got us into a lot of bother over the centuries – as noted in the next part of Samantha Trenoweth’s report:

‘Another threat comes from industry.  Professor Lewandowsky, expresses concern that science-skeptical climate change conspiracies are “driven by ideology and by vested interests.  We have an abundance of evidence that we’re facing an organised political campaign to deny science,” he says.

So are conspiracy theories dangerous? “Yes,” he answers emphatically.  “Exposure to a conspiracy theory makes people less engaged in politics, more distrustful, less likely to reduce their carbon footprint.

As the victims of conspiracy theories mount, academics are scrambling for solutions.  A massive increase in emphasis on critical thinking as early as primary school is high on the list of interventions, along with ‘pre-bunking’ programs [teaching internet users about conspiracy theories before they encounter them seems to take the gloss-off] and finally some level of content moderation online.  How successful these might be is still open for debate, however.

“We know from history that there are spikes of misinformation and conspiracy theories in times of great crisis.  There’s no doubt we’re in such a time so we are going to see a spike of activity… is it forever?  I don’t think so … I suppose, like most human beings, I remain optimistic – stupidly so, in many respects – that we’ll take more action on climate change, get on top of the economic difficulties we confront and won’t continue to trash the planet.  But I’m not so optimistic that I can’t see the role of misinformation and conspiracy theories in making that a much more difficult task.”

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