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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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 Knowing Your Consumer Rights Around Funerals, After-Death Bodycare, and Body Ownership Can Save You Money (as well as time, heartache, and energy…)

There has been a flurry of financial information doing the rounds of Australian news outlets in the last few days – see HERE and HERE from finder.com.au for details.

The average cost of a funeral now in Sydney is more than $8K, a startling figure in light of how inexpensive a funeral and cremation can be if you know your consumer rights and plan in advance. Of course, ‘planning’ refers to honest, open considerations of personal wishes and ideas, and open, honest conversations and a willingness to listen to the person whose End Of Life you are planning. The open-mindedness particularly pertains to Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) planning.

This is one area of death, dying, and End Of life documentation for which I strongly recommend you engage a suitably-informed End Of Life Doula; as there are sometimes state-by-state variations it is always a sensible idea to double-check that the EOL Doula you wish to retain for this purpose is an expert in the state you live in. This is a consideration for people who live close to state/territory borders, or who may know someone who is a highly-skilled EOL Doula, but they practice in a different state.

I am a staunch advocate of transparency in costing, as well as in consumer rights – however the corporate funeral industry in Australia is quite resistant to having informed consumers as this means the profit margins will be lowered – see Ibisworld for further information. One of the locked figures is the profit margin, estimated by the 2017 Ibisworld Report at 1.2 billion AUD per annum and growing.

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As a way of increasing death literacy and awareness in my area I am hosting an information evening: Plan Your End Of Life & Live Better! an official #D2KD event on August 8th with consumer education as the focus. Many events are being held around Australia throughout August, so have a look at the #D2KD site to see if there is one near you. Alternatively, if you prefer one-to-one interactions feel free to contact me to talk about your rights and choices at End Of Life – but remember I am based in NSW. For other Australian states, or to find an EOL Doula closer to your home, try The End Of Life Doula Directory.

Curious about your rights and consumer options? I specialise in information transfer and am extraordinarily good at explaining things from different perspectives so we can be sure you are fully informed and have all your questions answered.

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 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.

Slow changes to legal processes. The strange resistance to medical marijuana in Australia…

This is an excellent article for those wondering why access to medical cannabis is so horribly, needlessly difficult to attain in Australia.

We are working against an entrenched (and erroneous) myth of marijuana as a ‘gateway’ drug, the lingering damage of a War On Drugs mindset*, and a strong grip on the medical and legal pathways in Australia by pharmaceutical companies.

There is a good deal of evidence-based research available to us from several countries about the help cannabis oil and medical marijuana provides in chronic and End Of Life cases.

If you would like to find out more about your End Of Life choices please feel free to get in touch with me, I am happy to help you better understand your options.

Let’s talk

*Frequently fuelled by religous prejudice as well as widespread public mis-information that dates back to the time of Randolph Hearst wanting to spend a few pennies less for bales of cotton paper to print newspapers rather than hemp paper – free anti-cannabis advertising anyone??! This is really true; therefore Rupert Murdoch is not the only media mogul to do a great disservice to our communities and societies by spreading lies and mistruths in order to further his own business ends (see phone hacking and the Milly Dowler case, for example). But that is probably another blog post for another day…

Two of MY abstracts accepted for the June 2018 ESHMS Lisbon conference! Huzzah!

Came back from my – unplugged & lovely – holiday last night to discover that both of the abstracts I had submitted to the 17th Biennial conference with the European Society for Health and Medical Sociology (ESHMS) have been accepted!

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The conference – Old Tensions, Emerging Paradoxes in Health: rights, knowledge, and trust – will see me speak about the role of End Of Life Doulas in Australia, as well as ownership of the body, and body autonomy, after death in Australia (including disruptions to the corporatised medical and funeral industry models we are currently seeing emerge in Australia). For example, in Victoria Natural Grace Funerals, and in NSW Picaluna – funeral alternatives like these two companies offer true choice, time, individualisation, and (often) much less expensive End Of Life/funeral options for their clients compared to traditional corporate models. Economies of scale have seen us with our current models, however it is always good to know what your rights, options and choices are.

If you are interested in a funeral that suits you and reflects your life and personality please do not hesitate to get in touch, I am happy to help you understand what your real choices are for funerals and End Of Life.

Let’s talk.