When a book offers brilliant perspective on grief and coming back to ourselves…

Spoiler alert:

If you have not read UNBREAK MY HEART by Lauren Blakely please return either when you have had a chance to read the book, or return for my next post!

I am incredibly sick at the moment, the colds and flu this winter in my area have been relentless and vicious. I don’t tend to get sick readily, but when I do I often get quite sick – and this time round it is so bad I have actually taken time off work, farmed out grocery shopping to a good friend (thank you Dawn!), and had to stay at home while other people walked Cully for me (thank you!). So, as I am housebound and quite horizontal with illness I have also had time to catch up on my pleasure reading. These are the books that I read for fun, because I enjoy them as opposed to the books that I read for work, because I enjoy them. And so I genuinely wasn’t expecting to be sitting down today whilst sniffling madly and fighting the vestiges of a fever to write a book review, but most unexpectedly here we are. Fair warning, I will probably not be too academic, but enthusiastic nonetheless.

I refuse to call romance novels (the second biggest selling genre of books beaten only by self-help, by the way) a ‘guilty pleasure’ because I concur with USA author JR Ward: why feel guilty about something that you enjoy? Frankly, life is too short to be stupid about apologising for what we like in life (what we like that is harmless, let’s not get too carried away!). One writer I enjoy is Lauren Blakely, and her latest Unbreak My Heart was looking like a great convalescence novel so I sat down in a sun puddle in bed this morning, Cully at my side, pillows propping me up, tissues and tea at the ready, and was fully prepared to be entertained with some well-crafted, enjoyable escapist writing. Fast forward to later this morning (yes, I read three times faster than average; there are good reasons I devour books of all sorts and make a brilliant researcher…) and I had smiled, nodded, and wept a fair bit because Ms Blakely has written about grief and some of the effects, as well as some of the ways we bring ourselves through the worst and begin to live in the ‘after’ of a death.

What moved me in particular is that this book takes place well after the death, four months to be exact, and the central characters are moving towards the periphery of the space where the initial numbness of grief and loss is all that is felt and experienced. I appreciate the way that the characters in this book work towards trying to catch themselves and each other – not always successfully, and not always well, which is pretty much how we move around in grief, mourning, and loss in the real world – in the aftermath of a death. There is a simplicity and directness in much of the phrasing and writing in this book that made me stop and take a breath to acknowledge what was on the page. Each of the individual characters are permitted their own relationship and story with Ian, the man who has died. Each of the characters is permitted their own space, time to express what is important to them, and time to come to their own conclusions and realisations.

I like, too, that there is an acknowledgement of what ‘strangers’ generally will or will not ask/say, and what a relief it is when someone comes out and asks a direct question or talks about the dead person. We are still in the middle of August: Dying to Know Day #D2KD, and I did smile quietly to myself when I reached the end of the book as there are many conversations about death, dying, grief, and loss in this book; therefore making it a weirdly appropriate read for me after the Australian Grief and Bereavement conference presentation I gave a week and a half ago, and with me hosting the final of three #D2KD events this Saturday.

Yes, this is a romance novel so there is a happy, tidy-ish ending (that’s one of the reasons I enjoy this sort of book in my spare time), and yes, we could argue that there has not been enough time that has passed in the arc of the book for the characters to have grown, connected, and realised all that they did. But let me hold something up for consideration of fiction here – this book is a reflection of an idealised life because that is essentially and hopefully what novels do for us… we are given permission to consider the world and our experiences throught the lens of other people. Unbreak My Heart allowed me to emphathise, consider, laugh at, roll my eyes at, and stop and think about relationships with the dead, with the living after the dead are gone but we have material connections that are happy ones, and how our personal and intimate communities shift, grow, and change our lives after a death. This book may not be your cup of fiction tea, but there is an extraordinary depth of observation and food for reflection if you are wondering what grief and relationships may look and feel like after the first wave of loss begins to recede. I had not expected an enriched morning, and I am happy to have been wrong. If you enjoy accessing alternative perspectives on the subject of grief rather than doing the scholarly read, then I highly recommend this book.

If you are working through your own loss, or preparing for the death of someone you know, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I am a former somatic psychotherapist who specialises in information transfer, consumer advocacy about your rights around End Of Life, and an exceedingly good listener.

Let’s talk.

 

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Talking EOL Doulas and Health Sociology in Europe

I am a bit quiet on the posting at the moment as I am in Europe where I spoke at the biennial European Society for Health and Medical Sociology (ESHMS) conference.

A short holiday to recharge my energies and catch up with friends has followed the conference, but I do want to let you know how the conference went.

I presented on disruptions to the funeral industry in Australia and EOL Doulas in Australia. There is a lot of interest about Doulas in Europe, coupled with a genuine concern that poorer people are able to access our services – many colleagues were wondering about government subsidies for EOL Doulas in fact.

I plan to return to the next conference in 2020, where my research into EOL Doulas will be the focus of my

If you would like to know mire about family-led or alternative funeral options, or are Doula-Curious ease do not hesitate to contact me. I am happy to answer your questions.

Let’s talk.

The Funeral Disruption Industry in Australia

I am proud to be here in Lisbon at the ESHMS conference “Old Tensions, Emerging Paradoxes in Health Rights Knowledge, and Trust”.

I have two presentations: ohne about EOL Doulas and their role in providing ongoing death literacy and continuity of care for clients, the other (a distributed paper) on disruption and tbe corporate funeral model in Australia.

My distributed papet abstract is on pages 74-75 of the program book. I feel so proud, this is a great accomplishment.

Vale – a Reflection on Authors and Other Loved Ones

Vale means a written or verbal farewell, that is why the term shows up on social media platforms when someone has just died.

I have had a very busy start to February, and like many of us with over-committed lives (I am still a casual-contract social science academic and taught a Summer semester intensive; the marking turnarounds are brutal!) I began to write a post and needed to turn my attention elsewhere when I had begun a post in tribute to the late author Ursula K Le Guin.

Ursula K. Le Guin_1974_The Dispossessed.jpg

It was a surprise (and chagrin-making…) to come back the blog here after far too long – more than two weeks have passed – and see that I had left my intended memorial post too late. For which I apologise unreservedly to Ms. Le Guin, who deserves all fulsome and timely tributes. The Dispossessed changed my life when I was in my mid-teens, and her work has informed a great deal of my thinking and life ever since. The Earthsea Trilogy are also wonderful and influential books, and either of these are good starting places if you are new to Le Guin’s work*. And the tardiness of my written response – my literal “Vale” – serves as a good reminder to me that my life need not be so stupendously busy, ever, that I do not take a moment or two to let people know I love and care about them, or that when an author dies I cannot make time to make full notes/write about what made they way they touched my life so vital.

Books, the written works and words, the mindset and perspective that a book/author brings to my life is essential to the way I position myself in the world – take a look at the ever-increasing number of death-, dying- and End Of Life-related book reviews here on the site. However, I also read for pleasure, and also for research – books and authors form part of my personal intellectual oxygen mix, I need them to keep living as the individual I am.

I am reminded this month, with a gap in my blog posts and a hectic schedule, to pay attention to the people who touch my life. I am going to exert time and effort for the rest of February to tell the people who matter to me that they are important. I will tell the people I love that I love them, the people I respect that I respect them. I invite you, Gentle Reader, to do the same.

Our time is finite, and we do not know if we have until next week, next month, “next time” or any sort of “later” – because time waits for none of us, no matter how busy we tell ourselves we are with all our things to do. And do not forget to walk into your bathroom, look yourself in the eye and tell yourself that you love you, too. Make time for the people you love this month, and also for the things you love… because, why not?

And hey, if you need to make time to do some advance planning for your End Of Life as a gesture to the people in your life that you love and value, I am happy to help you explore your options. Communicate your love to your important people, then get in touch with me for an appointment.

Let’s talk.

*But please, please do buy them from your local independent bookseller – Amazon does not pay taxes in Australia. Keep local businesses going.