A bit more about how/why advance planning is one of the best things we can do for ourselves…

Rather than have me bang on about the beauty and importance of advance planning, especially Advance Health Care Directives (AHCD), there is a wonderful Guardian article here that is really worth while.

The article is from a UK legal and medical practice perspective, but the essence of why advance planning saves time, effort, grief and heartache is international.

Would you like to have an AHCD in place for yourself? Please do get in touch, I am an End Of Life Doula who specialises in advance planning.

Let’s talk.

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Why Mamma Mia 2 – here we go again is a wonderful metaphor for life after *** SPOILER ALERT!

If you haven’t yet seen Mamma Mia 2 and do not wish to know about a central aspect of the film’s plot please return for either my next post, or when you have had a chance to watch the movie.

Hubs and Self went to see the film last night, and we really enjoyed it – and we had read a fair bit of negative press, mostly complaining that the film lacked the ‘exuberance’ of the first one. And, yes, I can confirm that the sequel does not have the relentless, driving energy and breathless pace of the first. And this is sensible for a few good reasons…

  1. This is not the original, this is a sequel. If you are really attached to the pace of the first one then you are free to keep watching it. #sorted
  2. Everyone is older, and as we mature we do not have the relentless energy of youth – as humans we are subject to time (and oxygen, but that’s another blog post).
  3. Donna is dead and the film considers life, music, love, and change through a framework of loss and mourning that would be caricatured at best if a poppy, bouncy, high-energy approach to the movie was present. And this last is why I really loved (and yes, I cried at times… I did grow up listening to ABBA after all, and I am nostalgic and romantic and sentimental at times) how the movie is paced and crafted.

When someone we love dies we are changed. Even though we still feel love, joy, sorrow, exuberance, happiness, fear – all the things that make us human, sentient, and complex – we feel them through a new lens of experience. We have an ‘after’ now, which informs our responses and our understanding of the world. The film also takes place at the first anniversary of Donna’s death, and many of the characters respond with tears and sorrow to this date – it is not uncommon in real life for the full force of grief, loss, and mourning to take effect after a year has passed, taking many of us by surprise, so as an EOL Doula and sociologist I liked the honesty of the writing.

I could write for hours about how well I think the filmmakers compromised between happy music and a full perspective of emotion after a death, but I think I will leave this post shorter than I had intended. Just like our lives…

May your day be filled with music, laughter, joy, and enough bittersweet memory of all the people and times you have loved to make it a rich one.

If you are experiencing your own anniversary of a death and would like to know more about your own End Of Life options, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am an End Of Life Doula who will help you find the right soundtrack for your advance planning and funeral.

Let’s talk.

Why I Am an End Of Life Doula for Human and Non-Human Animals Alike

I came across a rather interesting project by Aubrey Wade, who is a British photographer working out of Berlin. The non-belief project is in the early stages, and I contacted Aubrey about participating in the project at some level – even though as I am based in Australia it may not be possible for me to be included. Aubrey wrote back to me, and asked a few questions that prompted and elicited a much deeper response than I had realised I had in me, and I am most grateful to Aubrey for the consideration of my own perspective that his questions gave rise to.

I do not generally publically share details of communication from a personal perspective, but as I myself attained a richer self-understanding from Aubrey’s mission statement and parameters for the project, I am sharing my response here in this post.

Aubrey wrote (in part) to me: The project will take shape in two primary ways:

  • A series of portraits combined with short interviews that reflects the variety of non-religious beliefs held by individuals across different countries.
  • An in-depth photo essay. I am interested in ritual behaviours connected with people’s non-religious beliefs, in particular when experiencing significant life moments, either positive or challenging (from celebrating to grieving), as well as transitions from one stage of life to another. I anticipate that at these times people’s beliefs, perspectives and worldviews come clearly into focus, are often embodied, and allow for a strong visual representation. I am also interested in exploring the role of ‘sacred’ or ‘spiritual’ objects, places and relationships in people’s non-religious beliefs and lives.

My response, which encapsulates my underlying world-views in ways even I had not fully realised is as follows (I have edited out specific details of my geographic location, and the email content is in blue to denote where the communication ends and the blog post proper recommences):

Good morning Aubrey,

I am happy to be a part of either spoken or visual aspects of your project, thank you! As a hard 7 atheist on the Dawkins scale I am intrigued by your project’s parameters.

My motivations: I am a rationalist and atheist, and one of the most satisfying aspects of my academic work is that I am able to model critical thinking to students in lectures and in tutorials – however the absence of critical capacity as an inherent part of religious and faith-based ‘belief’ is one of the most frustrating aspects of my teaching practice. As a former somatic psychotherapist and life-long storykeeper I am also always interested in people’s stories, because story/ies tells me about how people relate to the world, and who or what they value most. Relationships are therefore more significant to me than objects or even cultural frameworks – although the relationship/s a person may have with the frameworks themselves is often very interesting too…

The relationships that are most important for me, and that give me the most solace at challenging times in life, are those with animals; this is in both my academic and End Of Life arenas of work. I love my spouse and my good friends (who constitute my family), but I have a particular affinity with animals of the non-human kind: dogs in particular. The love, interactions, and relationship with my own dog* spurred on my decision to offer services as an EOL Doula for both people and their pets. Dogs and humans have co-evolved for at least 100 thousand years, and the bonds between human and canine are often the net that catches me best when I am dispirited, overwhelmed, or need to process strong emotion. I am able to write about this powerful and personally profound connection, but have no idea how – or indeed if – this might translate to the lens.

I understand the laws of physics and the universe – we come from the stuff of stars, as Carl Sagan put it, and we return to the stuff of stars when we die. I am not a believer in any kind of afterlife or reincarnation, and I am comfortable in the knowledge that our life is finite, bounded by the two transitions of birth and death. The relationships I have with those close to me whom I esteem and value, including my dog, do provide me with proof of compassion, genuine love and caring, communication (Cully is a Malamute X German Shepherd, so he talks a lot and is a very good communicator), community, and place in the world. As I re-read this paragraph I am aware that my position may seem detached and dry here on the page, but I am often moved to tears by the power of the emotion and connection that these relationships bring to my life. Spending time with a mix of animals – human and non-human – also reminds me to be humble. There are far too many cultural assumptions, generally rooted in religious standpoints, that position humans ‘above’ or in a place of purported ‘superiority’ to other forms of life, all of which are immediately thrown out the window when human actions are considered from a dispassionate perspective. Humans, by and large, treat other humans appallingly. Companion animals and pets, conversely, anchor me to, and in, generosity, kindness, and love.

Our pets also tend to live much shorter life spans that that of humans – with notable examples including tortoises and some bird species, for example – and therefore relationships with companion animals keeps me honest and focused on the present and immediate future. I don’t have the luxury of time within which to experience all I would like to with Cully as he is eight years old now and will probably only live another two to four years if we are fortunate. I have to be present every day, and I constantly check my priorities in terms of Cully’s routine and changing needs as he moves into becoming a ‘senior’ dog. In turn, I am more attuned and responsive to changing needs in the humans around me, and I am (I hope) a better EOL Doula, support person, colleague, spouse, and friend thanks to all that Cully and my other companion animals throughout the years have brought into my life. In essence, I think I am a better person because of my relationships with pets and animals.

I don’t know if my contribution will be useful or needed for your project, but I want to thank you for the opportunity here on the page to express my perspective – writing this email has helped me to clarify and better understand some of my own mechanisms and ideas which were reasonably unformed up until today. That is a gift, thank you.

Have a wonderful day and whether or not I hear from you in the future I wish you every success with your non-belief project,

Annetta

*I have attached an image of my dog Cully, who I credited in the acknowledgements section of my PhD thesis as my Research Assistant (specialist in water droplets, sand, and seaweed) – and I know of other academics who refer to their companion animals as RAs on a regular basis, for example.

I sincerely mean every word of what I wrote to Aubrey, and encourage you to do some deep reflection on your own perspectives of life, and what is important for you – your insights may well help you plan for a more fulfilling End Of Life for yourself and your pet. If you are interested in learning more about having support for either your own, or your companion animal’s End Of Life, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Let’s talk.

The Only Person In The Room Talking About Death…

I have finally surfaced from the jet-lag from my trip to Europe, where I was given the opportunity to present twice – once about the funeral disruption industry in Australia, once about End Of Life Doulas in Australia. Both presentations were in the same afternoon, so my tiredness at the end of the trip is understandable.

What I found fascinating is that the funeral disruption talk was slated for the panel “Birth and Death” – however I was the only person in the room who was talking about death. Weirdly, I was in a room full of midwives, nurses and researchers who were firmly fixated on the medicalisation of birth and the ramifications of this for practice. Which is good, and certainly food for good thought and future research pathways, however both mothers and infants/foetueses do die – so I was fascinated by the way I was actually sidelined by the room. Many people took enthusiastic photos of my presentation, but zero questions afterwards.

I do invite all of you to have conversations about death and dying. Please. Don’t be afraid of being the one person in the room who will begin the talks.

If you would like some pointers about how to begin a End Of Life conversation please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Let’s talk.20180606_150939.jpg

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.