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.

What happens when you die?

There is a well-written newspaper article here from the Bendigo Advertiser which investigates and clarifies what happens when you die. It is an interesting read.

If you have questions about advance planning for your own End Of Life I am happy to help you understand and navigate your options.

Let’s talk.

Bureaucratic process and documentation – not just for modern End Of Life!

As an End Of Life Doula who has several areas of specialisation, I work to remain current with changes to regulations and abreast of new information to serve my clients as best I can.

However, I also love history and research, and today I looked back in time with a quiet laugh about the way End Of Life and paperwork are intertwined throughout the course of recorded history. Over the course of this summer I am preoccupied with paperwork myself as I continue to work on becoming a registered Australian celebrant (not required for funerals in Australia at the time of writing, but still), and go through the processes of early preparation for research into End Of Life Doulas in Australia (2018’s project) and tidying up some administrative loose ends with a professional association for Doulas here in Australia. I am often thinking about the bureaucracy of End Of Life in multiple ways as I think about my colleagues, my own requirements and interests, and of course my clients and what they may want or need to know about any particular aspect of the End Of Life planning journey.

Paperwork, therefore, is all around me. Everywhere I look –  literally at the moment – I see paperwork of various stripes relating to End Of Life whilst researching paperwork and End Of Life. #MetaphorAlert

PaperworkDesk

So here are a few interesting tidbits about the intersections of End Of Life and documents. As the ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Egyptians all had flourishing bureaucracies at the beginning of recorded history, I will touch on something from each here:

In 2011 Eleni Pachoumi published an article considering the Greek Magical Papyri and resurrection of the dead, with a focus on the role of the dead as assistant (the idea for Shelley’s Frankenstein came from somewhere), and whether or not manipulation of the body equates to resurrection. The papyri purports to give the directions and spell for resurrection, so death and paperwork can serve both the living and the dead here in interesting ways.

The ancient Egyptians, creators of an excellent bureaucratic system, had a collection of over 200 spells for the scribes to draw from for a papyrus scroll when creating a Book of the Dead for an individual. Instructions for navigating the afterlife were complex and tailored to an person’s preferences and lifestyle in the lived world. In this instance, the scrolls worked primarily to serve the dead in the next world, although there is an argument that the living may have been consoled by the instructions provided in the scroll as well.

Some ancient Greeks (of the Orphic tradition) paid scribes by the letter (Oh! What a time to be a writer!) to create lamellae in gold foil, providing stonking evidence, if there were any doubts, that purchasing one’s way into a better after-life is not a modern claim to fame. Wealthy people would have been virtually guaranteed entry into Paradise as they could afford more fulsome testimony as to the ‘pure’ state of their lives and genealogy in comparison to poorer persons who could not afford many words. Claiming relation to deity was considered desirable and effective in gaining access to the ‘good’ VIP areas of the afterlife in many ancient belief systems, including that of the Greeks. Some theorists consider the lamellae as ‘passports’, exhorting the gods to permit the bearer to enter the better areas including Paradise and the Elysian Fields and striving to ensure that Tartarus (structures of punishment and levels of reward in the afterlife are old constructs, too), whilst others consider that the lamellae were mouth coverings that would ‘speak’* for the individual in the afterlife. The claimed link to the Orphic tradition in the lamellae by some scholars – contested as real by researchers of the ancient world for almost a century now – is a fascinating aspect of this story, but one I will consider in another post as there are also cross-overs to ancient Egypt and it can be somewhat involved…

China, another nation with an admirable bureaucratic system, also has paperwork for the End Of Life, however the paperwork involves etiquette instructions for the intermediary (male head of the family) between the living and the dead. Strict protocols and rituals were involved in this Confucian practice, although the book cited here concerns a more ‘approachable’ translation of the original texts in the 12th century by Chu Hsi, which would have been easier for families at several levels of society to read and follow. Simplified paperwork is a good thing.

We in the 21st century must have the correct paperwork for concluding the End Of Life process; we must follow bureaucratic and administrative processes to the letter in order to ensure that End Of Life is smooth for those remaining behind us. Some of us are not able to move forward in grief or mourning until all the paperwork is finalised, so underestimating the import of planning or lack thereof is to be avoided whenever possible. Sometimes the paperwork takes a long, long time and there is nothing we can do about the timeline, but for family the wait can be excruciating. The relative of a friend died alone from unknown causes, but as soon as foul play (murder, etc.) was ruled out by the Coroner’s office the case fell far down the priority list for processing and releasing the outcomes of testing and autopsy. The family waited for six weeks before finding out the true cause of death and the release of the body for funeral and cremation – the stasis created by the delay in paperwork intensified the struggle the family had in coming to terms with the unexpected death, and altered their mourning journey irreversibly.

Paperwork surrounds us, even when it is not as obvious as the work desk I currently have in front of me the paperwork is still there. Bureaucracy is still implacable. It is sometimes fun for me to think about how paperwork and process at End Of Life have gone together in the past, and I hope it is for you sometimes, too (otherwise why would you have read this far?) – however I also bear in mind that advance planning of as much ‘paperwork’ as possible is essential in our modern society. We can make grieving, mourning, and processing as simple as possible for our loved ones – and it is a very tangible way to caretake our loved ones and those we leave behind after our End Of Life.

Advance planning for your End Of Life will not hasten anything or change anything in negative terms for you and your family; you may be surprised to know that it is often quite the reverse. People who plan their paperwork for End Of Life almost universally experience a better quality of life because the bureaucracy/paperwork is sorted and you are able to focus your time and energy on the projects, people, and events that bring you pleasure.

*On a side note, I myself think about advance planning documents in just this way; our wills, and memorial letters, books, films and artworks ‘speak’ for us even after our End Of Life.

 

Death on Earth

HOward

Death on Earth – Adventures in Evolution and Mortality provides an eclectic mix of personal observation and questioning, scientific information, and observations from death professionals in conversation with the author. At times I found that the wonderings of the author overlapped the focus of the writing in ways that clouded the chapter focus – however, perhaps this is simply part of humans grappling with the unknowns at the End Of Life. I read Jules Howard’s book whilst travelling, which I like because I can read without distractions. Don’t be fooled by the size of the book, although it looks an innocuous paperback there is a lot of information inside, along with a variety of perspectives on death, mortality, sex, and life.

Yup, sex. Because one of the aspects of life that is frequently obscured in discussions of death/dying/mortality is the fact that without sex there is no life, and the two are inevitably intertwined. As a sex-positive End Of Life Doula I was quite delighted to see that the importance of sex to reproduction and thence to death, the life cycle of life on earth, and the impact sex has at all levels of life was not glossed over in this book.

There is a lot of attention paid to the scientific and the factual, which I particularly enjoy, so if you are looking for a fluffy, comforting read this may not be your first port of call. As an End Of Life professional and social scientist, however, I found the book thought-provoking, occasionally quite funny, and sometimes frustrating; arguably all of these are the hallmarks of a good book. The parts I struggled with relate to discussions attempting to equate the responses of other animals to those of human animals, and is a personal bugbear of my own… many other readers may not even notice.

For those of us curious about the arc of life and what constitutes death and happens to physical remains after death (along with some interesting information about ritual and cultural narratives around death for humans) this is a good addition to your bookshelf.