05/22/18

Breaking the silence: are we getting better at talking about death?

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As the media brings us constant news of strangers’ deaths, grief memoirs fill our shelves and dramatic meditations are performed to big crowds, we have reached a new understanding of mortality, says Edmund de Waal

A 2016 performance of An Occupation of Loss. Artist Taryn Simon gathered professional mourners from 15 countries to demonstrate how they perform grief.

Bereavement is ragged. The papers are full of a child’s last months, the protests outside hospitals, the press conferences, court cases, international entreaties, the noise of vituperation and outrage at the end of a life. A memorial after a violent death is put up on a suburban fence. It is torn down, then restored. This funeral in south London becomes spectacle: the cortege goes round and round the streets. The mourners throw eggs at the press. On the radio a grieving mother talks of the death of her young son, pleading for an end to violence. This is the death that will make a difference. She is speaking to her son, speaking for her son. Her words slip between the tenses.

Having spent the last nine months reading books submitted for the Wellcome book prize, celebrating writing on medicine, health and “what it is to be human”, it has become clear to me that we are living through an extraordinary moment where we are much possessed by death. Death is the most private and personal of our acts, our own solitariness is total at the moment of departure. But the ways in which we talk about death, the registers of our expressions of grief or our silences about the process of dying are part of a complex public space.

Some are explorations of the rituals of mourning, how an amplification of loss in the company of others – the connection to others’ grief – can allow a voicing of what you might not be able to voice yourself. The actor and writer Natasha Gordon’s play about her familial Jamaican extended wake, Nine Night, is coming to the end of a successful run at the National Theatre. The nine nights of the wake are a theatre of remembrance, a highly codified period of time shaped to allow the deceased to leave the family.

Theatre of remembrance … Hattie Ladbury and Franc Ashman in Nine Night, Natasha Gordon’s play about a Jamaican wake.

Julia Samuel records in Grief Works, her remarkable book of stories of bereavement, a woman who “asked friends and family to sit shiva [the Jewish mourning tradition] with me at a certain time and place”. And that there was anguish when these particular times were ignored: two friends came at times that were “convenient for them rather than when she was sitting shiva, thus ‘raising all the issues I was temporarily trying to keep contained’”.

As an academic writes in the accompanying notes to artist Taryn Simon’s performance An Occupation of Loss, recently staged in London, “communication between the living and the dead is possible only in mediated forms”. There are obligations we have to fulfil to those who have died. Simon gathered professional mourners from 15 countries (Ghana, Cambodia, Armenia and Ecuador, among others). The mourners wailed and sobbed and keened, the intensity of their expression, their sheer volume, a challenge to the idea that there has to be a silence that surrounds bereavement.

There are silences. Contemporary books on death often take as their premise that to be writing in the first place is a breaking of a taboo. “It’s time to talk about dying,” writes Kathryn Mannix in her book about her work in palliative care, With the End in Mind. “There are only two days with fewer than 24 hours in each lifetime, sitting like bookmarks astride our lives: one is celebrated every year, yet it is the other that makes us see living as precious.” These books record the silence that we in the west have created. By removing dying into a medical context, where expertise and knowledge lie so emphatically with others, we have made death unusual, a process clouded by incomprehension. And by novelty.

So one kind of language we need is that of clarity. A lucidity that allows for the involvement of family and friends alongside healthcare professionals. Clarity, writes Mannix, around the questions such as “when does a treatment that was begun to save a life become an interference that is simply prolonging death? People who are found to be dying despite the best efforts of a hospital admission can only express a choice if the hospital is clear about their outlook.” Conversations about palliative care need extraordinary skill and empathy. These are skills that can be learned.

But for someone writing about their own grief, there are no guidelines. You might have read Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial, or the poems of John Donne, the theories of John Bowlby or Donald Winnicott, Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia, but it simply doesn’t register. Being well read doesn’t help when someone who matters dies. Part of this attempt to start again, to find a form out of the formlessness of grief, is a reluctance to take on the generic language of sympathy, the homogeneous effect of cliche. Bereavement is bereavement, not a masterclass in being well read in the classics. “The death of a loved one is also the death of a private, whole, personal and unique culture, with its own special language and its own secret, and it will never be again, nor will there be another like it,” writes David Grossman in Falling Out of Time, his novel about the death of his son. A death needs a special language.

The language of loss and the framing of sympathy in everyday life is so impoverished, so mired in cliche and euphemism, that deep metaphors of “passing” become thinned to nothing, to sentimentality. The iterations of “losing the battle” and the valorising, endlessly, of “courage” is a way of making the bereaved feel they need to enact a particular role. And then there is the “being strong”. If you are told how wonderful you are for not showing emotion, or for continuing as before, where does that leave being scared? How about denial? Or anger, terror, desolation, loneliness? How about confusion? Why only endurance, resilience, strength? In this need to name, to find precision, accuracy is a measure of love. I think of Marion Coutts’ book The Iceberg, on her dying husband Tom Lubbock’s language, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, charting everything, weighing her responses to her grief. This is different, they say, writing this is a work of mourning.

The greatest of these books find a language that encompasses the sheer confusion of bereavement. In her forthcoming book Everyday Madness: On Grief, Anger, Loss and Love, Lisa Appignanesi writes that “Death, like desire, tears you out of your recognisable self. It tears you apart. That you was all mixed up with the other. And both of you have disappeared. The I who speaks, like the I who tells this story, is no longer reliable.” This is the other loss, that of selfhood, of control, of a forward momentum, of certainty. Appignanesi’s grief at the untimeliness of her husband’s death makes time itself deranged. Her days and weeks and months go awry. Her sense of the past is also called into question. It is excoriating: “My lived past, which had been lived as a double act, had been ransacked, stolen.” Bereavement, she notes, has a deep etymology of plunder. It tears you apart. Where all these registers go wrong, you oscillate between kinds of behaviour that are disinhibited, a derangement of self. It can be physical, a falling, a losing your way. I think of the crow in Max Porter’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers as the deranged, ransacking presence in a family where the mother has died.

A deranged, ransacking presence’ … Cillian Murphy in Grief Is the Thing with Feathers.

These are images that go deep into history. In the Book of Lamentations we read that God “has made me dwell in darkness … he has walled me in and I cannot break out … He has weighed me down with chains … He has made my path a maze … He has forced me off my way and mangled me.” The Hebrew word eikh (how) opens the Book of Lamentations and then reappears throughout the text. This how is not a question, more a bewildered exhortation. You are beyond questions. All you can do is repeat.

In Anne Carson’s poem Nox, a response to the death of her brother, she refused to accept any conventional form. So the poem comes like a box, a casket, of fragments, attempts at definitions, parts of memories. This seems appropriate. The shape of grief is different each time. That is why the shard – the pieces of broken pottery that are ubiquitous across all cultures – is often used as an expressive image of loss. Think of Job lamenting to God, sitting on a pile of broken shards. In my own practice as a potter, whenever I pick up pieces of a dropped vessel I notice that each shard has its own particularity. Each hurts.

In her study of the deaths of writers, The Violet Hour, Katie Roiphe writes that “moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.” Bereavement takes a pathway that is different for each and every one of us. It takes different registers, different words. And that is what I take away from this very particular nine months of reading and reflecting on mortality. That there is change in the public space around death. This change is remarkable and wonderful when it comes to end-of-life care: the hospice movement and the training in palliative care are one of the greatest and most compassionate changes to occur in the last 30 years.

And, more slowly, it is happening outside the hospitals and clinics and hospices. People do want to read and talk about grief. For this we have to be grateful to those writers who are trying to find their own shard-like languages to express their own bereavements.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/11/18

How young children understand death – and how to talk to them about it

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Some big questions.

By , and

“Mummy, what happens after we die?” Many parents have been asked this kind of question, and it is often difficult to know how best to reply. Should you be open about your own beliefs – whether they are religious, agnostic or atheist? And is it OK to sugarcoat? Recent research in developmental psychology provides some advice.

Death is a fascinating subject to many children, as shown, for example, when they come across a dead animal or plant. Their observations and questions show a healthy curiosity as they strive to make sense of a complex world.

Yet to many parents, death is a taboo subject for children. But children’s questions actually provide an excellent opportunity to encourage their inquisitiveness and to support their learning about, for example, biology and the life cycle. However, there are situations when you need to show great sensitivity.

What children know

Most preschoolers do not grasp the biological basis of death and tend to believe that death is a different state of life, like a prolonged sleep. At this age, children often say that only old and ill people die. They also think dead people feel hungry, need air and can still see, hear or dream. To gain a mature, biological understanding of death, children must acquire knowledge of a few key facts about death.

Typically, between the ages of four and 11, children gradually come to understand that death is universal, inevitable and irreversible, follows the breakdown of bodily functions, and leads to the cessation of all physical and mental processes. That is, by the age of 11, most children grasp the idea that all people – including their loved ones and themselves – will die one day and remain dead forever.

However, some young children will understand these components sooner, and here experience and appropriate conversations are influential. For example, those who have already experienced the death of a loved relative or pet, and those with more experience of the life cycle through interacting with animals, tend to have a better grasp of the death concept.

Another predictor of relatively early understanding is parents being better educated, irrespective of the child’s intelligence. This suggests that parents can and do help their child’s understanding of death by providing appropriate opportunities and clearly explaining the biological facts during the primary years.

Religion and culture also play an important role in shaping children’s beliefs. During their conversations with adults, children often encounter biological facts but also “supernatural” beliefs about the afterlife and spiritual world. Developmental psychologists have discovered that as children grow older and grasp the biological facts about death, they typically develop a “dualist” view that combines biological and supernatural beliefs.

For example, ten-year-olds may recognise that dead people cannot move or see because their bodies have stopped working, but at the same time believe that they dream or miss people.

Honesty and sensitivity

Recent research on children’s understanding of death has a number of implications for how best to discuss this complex and often emotionally charged subject.

The most important thing is to not shy away from the topic – don’t ignore a child’s questions or try to change the subject. Instead, see them as an opportunity to nurture their curiosity and contribute to their gradually gaining a better understanding of the life cycle. Similarly, listening to what children ask and say about death will enable you to gauge their feelings and level of understanding, and to work out what requires explanation or reassurance. An oversimplified message can be uninformative and patronising, and an overly complex explanation might add to confusion and possible distress.

For example, offering detailed information or graphic details about how someone died or what happens to dead bodies may cause unnecessary worry and fear, especially in younger children. For some children, the idea that a dead person continues to watch over us can be reassuring, but for others it might be a source of confusion and distress.

Another key aspect is to be honest and avoid ambiguity. For example, telling a child that a dead person is “asleep” could lead them to believe that dead people can wake up. Research has shown that children who understand the normality, inevitability and finality of death are likely to be better prepared for, and better able to make sense of death when it happens. Indeed, children with such understanding actually report less fear of death.

Being honest also means acknowledging the uncertainties and mystery of death and avoiding being dogmatic. It is important to explain that there are some things that nobody can know, and that it is normal to hold apparently inconsistent beliefs simultaneously. However strong your religious or atheist beliefs, acknowledge that others may hold very different views. This approach will encourage tolerance of others’ beliefs, support children’s naturally strong drive to make sense of the world and inspire an appreciation of its wonder and mystery.

Perhaps the most important thing is to acknowledge that sadness is normal, and that it is natural to worry about death. We all feel sad when a loved one dies but we gradually overcome our sadness as life goes on. To ease concern, you could offer realistic reassurance. Point out, for example, the likelihood that they and their loved ones will continue to live for a very long time.

If a child is coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, or is dying herself, great sensitivity is required. This does not mean being less honest or open. Children manage their anxiety and fears better when they can rely on truthful explanations about the death of a loved one. For children who know that they are dying, it is important to provide them with opportunities to ask questions and express their feelings and wishes.

Whatever the circumstances, children try to fill in the gaps in their knowledge if truthful information is kept from them. Often their imagination can be far more scary, and potentially far more damaging, than the reality.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/3/18

SENIORS COPING WITH LOSS OF INDEPENDENCE

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by

Help Seniors Cope with the Loss of Independence

A loss of independence is a fear many seniors have. When this fear is realized, there are several ways caregivers need to help. According to an AARP study conducted in 2012, 57% of seniors over age 70 do not find it easy to live alone and need help with daily tasks. This loss of independence can have a toll on senior’s psychological and physical well-being. Most people begin to live and perform daily life tasks independently by the age of 20. About 50 years later, many find that independence is no longer safe or viable. The loss of independence seniors face can often result if grieving, frustration, and other emotional upset. Caregivers can help seniors by understanding the process.

Types of Independence Seniors May Lose

As seniors’ bodies and/or minds degenerate, they can experience a variety of types of losses. Their independence can be impacted in ways that change their lifestyles and even their understanding of the world. Some types of independence seniors may lose include: • Mobility • Ability to live alone • Memory • Comprehension/decision-making skills • Strength to perform daily tasks • Energy to clean or cook • Social life • Sight • Hearing

How to Help Seniors Cope with Increased Dependency

Relying on other people’s assistance for basic tasks like bathing or common activities like driving can be frightening and frustrating for seniors. With the loss of independence, seniors also tend to lose some control over their schedule, freedom, preferences, and more. Caregivers can help make decreased independence more bearable using strategies like these:

Maintain a Standard of Dignity

Requiring assistance with activities like bathing or shopping does not mean that seniors need to give up their dignity. Caregivers should always guard seniors’ privacy. It is also wise to use the terms a senior does when referencing body parts, activities, or even hygiene products.

Ask Instead of Telling

Caregiving for someone who has lost a type of independence is a supportive role, not a leading role. Caregivers should ask seniors about their preferences, needs, etc., instead of telling them. For example, if a senior cannot cook for themselves, a caregiver should ask for input for meal planning. Give Options for Caregiving Since dependence requires trust and can be very personal in nature, it is important for seniors to have choices. Learn if a senior prefers same-sex caregivers, certain routines, etc.

Stay Organized and Consistent

Dependence means a loss of control. Seniors have to wait on others for assistance, which can be stressful. Caregivers should remain consistent in their routine so that seniors don’t need to be anxious about when or how their care will be provided. Organize necessary materials so they are accessible to seniors who cannot mobilize independently as well.

Offer Reminders That You Can Be Counted On

Depending on other people for help, especially with essential tasks, requires trust. This can cause seniors anxiety and stress. Remind a nervous senior that he or she is in good hands and is being taken care of to assuage their fears.

Ask Instead of Telling

Caregiving for someone who has lost a type of independence is a supportive role, not a leading role. Caregivers should ask seniors about their preferences, needs, etc., instead of telling them. For example, if a senior cannot cook for themselves, a caregiver should ask for input for meal planning.

Complete Article HERE!

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03/28/18

Learning how to think about death changed how I live

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Viewing death as unrelated to life, or antithetical it, does a disservice to the days we have, because we don’t know how to value them, says John Leland. The journalist and author explains how an elderly friend changed his perspective on the importance of acknowledging our mortality.

Read the Full Transcript

Judy Woodruff:
New York Times reporter John Leland began following a group of men and women in 2015 who ranged in age from 87 to 92.
What he learned shattered his expectations about aging and death, as he explains in his Humble Opinion.

John Leland:

People are always telling us to live each day as if it’s our last, but we don’t really do it, and for two good reasons.

The first is that, if you really thought today was your last day, you wouldn’t pay the utility bill or save for retirement, and, before you know it, you’re in the dark warming a can of beans over an open flame.

And the second reason is that we don’t like to think about death or dying, except as something that happens to other people.

A few years ago, I met a man named John Sorensen, who taught me how to think about death, and it changed my outlook on life. He was 91, and he missed his partner of 60 years. And every time I visited him, he said he wanted to die. He wasn’t depressed or even sad.

In fact, talking about dying always got him in a good mood. Wanting to die, for John, was the best reason to live.

And what I mean is this. He loved opera and he loved old movie musicals. And wanting to die meant acknowledging that this might be the last time he heard Jonas Kaufmann sing Wagner or watched Gene Kelly singing in the rain. This made each time more worthy of his attention.

And the same went for visits with friends. It’s a textbook economics of scarcity. His days weren’t fleeting. They were saturated with pleasures of his own choosing.

In our culture, we have come to think of death as a kind of failure of medicine or an affront to the self, rather than seeing mortality as built into all of our days, the first as much as the last.

Viewing death this way, as unrelated to life or antithetical to it, does a disservice to the days we have, because we don’t know how to value them. We enjoy a movie more knowing it’s going to end in a couple hours.

That ski run in the Swiss Alps, it’s only fun because you know there’s a bottom. The end of the run gives meaning to each curve on the way down, even when you’re still near the top of the mountain.

I have heard this acceptance of the end from most of the older people I have spent time with.

But you don’t have to wait until we’re 91 to enjoy it. We should rethink what it means to live every day as if it’s your last. The way I learned it from John, it means embracing that part of the end that exists in this moment, and then in the next.

You don’t have to quit your job or stop paying your utility bill. There’s enough to live for in the things you’re already doing. Each brush with a stranger, each moment with friends, each kiss or caress, there’s a little bit of our mortality in all of them. But their ours for now.

And that is reason to be happy.

Complete Article HERE!

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03/24/18

Dying Young and the Psychology of Leaving a Legacy

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Often the biggest existential distress that we carry is the idea that no-one will remember us when we are gone—initially we know that our friends and family will hold who we are, but after a generation, these people are likely gone too. At the end of life, the pressure to leave an unquestionably relevant legacy can be crippling for people, particularly for young people. When coupled with the limited energy that people have when they are unwell, the very nature of what people expect to achieve in the world shrinks, and the really important pieces come into focus.

When time is seen to be limited, every moment can take on a weight that has never before been experienced. Some of these expectations come from within and some externally, but regardless of their origin they can be paralyzing for the young person facing their mortality, particularly when unwell. Culturally, there are multiple references as to what ‘dying young’ is meant to mean and most refer to extraordinary and often unobtainable expectations. For instance, members of the ‘27 club’ (celebrities who die on or before their 27th birthday) and notable cancer-related concepts around ‘bucket lists’ and works of fiction (e.g., The Fault in Our Stars). Most young people, particularly those who are dying, do not have the capacity or the options to engage in an extraordinary feat, they can become overwhelmed and paralyzed by what they are ‘meant to be doing’.

Often, as is the case with many things in life, simple and small are the gestures and moments which are the most meaningful, with huge projects and adventures feeling too overwhelming and out of the grasp of someone with limited energy and resources. As such, the fantasy of what something may have looked and felt like, had they have been well, is a much more satisfying space for them to sit with. Similarly, relationships become much more meaningful, as do the simple things that are taken away through the treatment process, like being able to sit in the sun or go to the pub with a friend.

Young patients can be bombarded with well-intentioned suggestions about what they ‘need’ to do, including making future legacy-based activities, such as leaving cards for each of their younger sibling’s birthdays, video journals of their death, or chronicling how they feel about all the people in their world. Although these are good ideas, they are emotionally and physically difficult to manage with limited resources. Patients need to be feeling very resilient and well before attempting any of these things with most being abandoned due to the confronting nature of conceptualizing the world without them present in it. It is a difficult ask for anyone to be able to take the relatively abstract idea of the world continuing following your own death; this does not change for young people and, in some ways, it is even more challenging due to their pervasive sense of self, even in the face of very real threats to their mortality.

The way that young people respond to being presented with a very limited life expectancy can vary tremendously. Some may stick their head firmly in the sand and refuse to discuss or conceptualize anything about what may happen in the lead-up to their death, or following. Others will organize everything about the end of their lives, including where they want to die, how alert they want to be, as well as what will happen following their death—such as where their belongings go and how they want to be remembered. For most people in this situation, in an existential sense, almost everything is out of control, the disease will do what it does, the pain is what it is, and they are an observer to the things happening in their bodies. The things that people can control is what they talk about, how much they talk about it, and who they talk about it too.

Just because death, dying, and legacy are not being talked about, does not mean that it is not in the consciousness and thoughts of the person pondering their own end. Instead, it may be that they have done as much thinking and talking about it as they need to do; it is often these patients that have very well-considered plans about what they want to happen as they deteriorate and the decisions that must be made about their care.

Complete Article HERE!

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02/10/18

What terminally ill children taught this doctor about how to live

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Dr Alastair McAlpine asked some of young patients what gave them joy and meaning – their answers surprised him

Dr Alastair McAlpine asked some of young patients what gave them joy and meaning. Their answers were surprising and positive.

By Alastair McAlpine

As a pediatric palliative care physician, I spend my days working with children who have life-threatening or life-limiting illnesses and their families.

Although many people think of us as the harbingers of death, in reality, doctors like us aim to maximize quality of life, especially when that life is likely to be shortened. We recognize that these children are so much more than just their illness and that they are part of a family. We focus not just on their medical needs but also on their psychosocial and spiritual ones as well.

Last year, as part of my diploma in pediatric palliative care, I was tasked with evaluating the attitudes of my little patients towards life. I asked some of them what gave them joy and meaning. Their answers were surprising and positive.

In fact, they made me completely re-evaluate my relationships with friends and family. I now spend more time with the people I love and I tell them how I feel about them. I have tried to make kindness a priority in my life.

I decided to share some of the children’s responses on Twitter, to provide some perspective to the fractiousness that is so prevalent there. The response was overwhelming, to say the least (my thread has been retweeted nearly 100,000 times).

The kids were not hung up on “stuff”. What mattered were the things that we all intrinsically know are important, but often forget in the hustle and bustle of daily living. The biggest takeaway for me is that the happiest, most meaningful moments were simple ones that did not require vast sums of money or effort to attain, but instead embraced the importance of human connection. It was also surprising how frequently the so-called small things were the ones that turned out to have enormous significance at the end.

Here are the top six lessons that my little patients taught me about life:

1. Spending time with family and pets is incredibly important.

Whether talking, laughing, playing, or just sharing silence, time spent with loved ones and pets was priceless. Towards the end, the only regret many of the kids had was that they didn’t get to spend more time “with mum and dad and my big brother”.

2. Humor and laughter are vital.

Even though they were squarely facing death, these kids derived amusement from the same things that normal children do: silly antics; clumsy adults; slapstick humor. Laughing is so important for many reasons but key among them is that it reduces pain.

Finding levity in the face of overwhelming tragedy can be difficult, and some of the parents dug into unimaginably deep wells of courage to provide mirth when their hearts were breaking. One dad pulled funny faces through his tears. But it always paid off. And whether ill or healthy, children will always be delighted by farting.

3. Good stories told and read by a loved one offer inspiration.

The written word and vivid fantasies told with basic toys enabled children to create alternate realities away from the often sterile hospital environment. They were sources of inspiration to continue fighting, even when the “battle” seemed lost. After all, if Harry Potter could continue to face Voldemort, then they could defeat their own “monsters”.

Stories also allowed the children to construct a meaningful narrative to explain the often incomprehensible diseases they were so bravely facing. Many believe that our ability to create and share stories is what defines us as human beings, and these kids demonstrated that. Stories inspired, captivated and transported them.

4. Swimming in the sea, playing on the sand and eating ice cream (even on a cold day) are simple, memorable pleasures.

Children vividly remembered the simple pleasures that cost little except the effort of being truly present; the moments that may have seemed small at the time were often, upon reflection, priceless.

5. Children as young as four worried about what would happen to their parents.

Many of the kids had made peace with their fates but wanted to protect mum and dad from additional heartache. This role-reversal is surprisingly common and indicates that children are far more attuned to their bodies than we think they are. Death is the elephant in the room. Part of my job is to encourage honesty and to get everyone talking, even when it’s painful.

6. Simple acts of kindness were treasured and remembered until the very end.

Kindness, whether from the classmate who offered a sandwich or a nurse’s smile, was the virtue that made the biggest impact on the children. They loved kind people and remembered acts of kindness until the very end. The last words I heard from one little girl were: “Thank you for holding my hand when I was scared.”

None of these revelations are new or earth-shattering, but when they come from children who are bravely facing death, an extra level of profundity is added, which has prompted many (including myself) to re-evaluate just what is important with the very limited time we have. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the beach to eat an ice cream.

Complete Article HERE!

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01/27/18

Americans are pack rats. Swedes have the solution: ‘Death cleaning.’

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by Jura Koncius

If your family doesn’t want your stuff when you’re alive, they sure won’t want it when you’re dead.

That’s the blunt assessment of yet another self-help author from abroad who is trying to get Americans, who have an addiction to collecting and storage units, to clean up their acts.

The latest volley in the decluttering business comes from Stockholm, where 80-ish artist Margareta Magnusson has just published a slim yet sage volume, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” The book will be published in the United States in January.

While Japanese item-control diva Marie Kondo gave us strict instructions to keep only things that spark joy, Magnusson’s book is straightforward and unsentimental (with a bit of humor). The main message from this mother of five is: Take responsibility for your items and don’t leave them as a burden for family and friends. It’s not fair. Magnusson says you can keep things that evoke good memories; there are no hard-and-fast rules such as folding your remaining T-shirts to stand upright in your drawers, as dictated by the KonMari method.

The concept of decluttering before you die, a process called “dostadning,” is part of Swedish culture. (It comes from the Swedish words for death and cleaning.) Karin Olofsdotter, 51, the Swedish ambassador to the United States, says her mother and father, who are in their 80s, are in the midst of it back home.

“My parents and their friends are death cleaning, and we all kind of joke about it,” Olofsdotter says. “It’s almost like a biological thing to do.” Olofsdotter says part of Swedish culture is living independently and never being a burden to anyone. How you keep your home is a statement of that.

Magnusson, who has moved 17 times, says women often end up doing the death cleaning. After her husband died, she had to declutter their house; it took her almost a year before she could downsize to a two-room apartment. She says that although it felt overwhelming, she is glad she did it herself, as her husband would have wanted to keep everything and her kids would have disagreed about what to keep and what to toss. This way, she made her own decisions. Now she continues to do it on a regular basis.

Magnusson suggests that age 65 is a good time to start death cleaning, but the process is freeing at any age.

A few of her tips: Don’t start with your photos, as you’ll get bogged down in your memories and never accomplish anything. Make sure you keep a book of passwords for your heirs. Give away nice things you don’t want as gifts, such as china or table linens or books, as opposed to buying new items. Keep a separate box of things that matter only to you, and label it to be tossed upon your death. It’s okay to keep a beloved stuffed animal or two.

Magnusson and one of her daughters filmed a video in which she talks about why she decluttered and how it’s not a sad process, but more of a relief. Her daughter asks whether her mom would help her begin death cleaning. They go to a storage locker overflowing with luggage and clothes and blankets topped by a garden gnome.

“Oh, my God. What are you going to do with all this crap?” her mother says in perfect English, taking a look around. They discuss how long it’s going to take.

“You are never ready with your death cleaning because you don’t know when you are going to die,” Magnusson says. “So it goes on and on.”

When you are dead, then it stops, they agree.

“Finally,” Magnusson says.

Complete Article HERE!

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