10/19/17

How to help your kids say goodbye to a beloved pet

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Tips on how to guide little hearts through their grief to help them deal with their loss and recover from it

By Jennifer Walker

Saying goodbye to a pet is an inevitable experience many families will experience.

And telling the truth to children and allowing them to grieve is crucial in helping them deal with their loss, as well as recover from it.

“I think it is important to tell children the truth but depending on their age and developmental level, the information you communicate will differ,” said Kyle Newstadt, individual and family therapist and director of Integrate Health Services. “Regardless, they should know the truth and if you know the pet is sick or death is on the horizon, it is important to communicate that with children.”

According to Ms. Newstadt, books can be helpful to introduce the topic to a child with the family without any other distractions. She said parents could explain to their children that the animal has been to the doctor for medicine and that they’re waiting to see if it helps the situation.

“Don’t hide the truth and say the animal is sleeping or he ran away; it’s abstract and kids wont understand that,” said Ms. Newstadt. “Stick to the truth and avoid unknown language, explain death but leave it up to the child and what they’re asking — children can surprise us.”

A toddler is unlikely to understand death but those words should be used, she added.

“Parents could explain that medicine was given to dog and it will help him close his eyes and he will die peacefully,” said Ms. Newstadt. “Wait for them to ask “what does death mean?’ and, depending on religious beliefs, that would be a good time to talk about that.”

According to the local therapist, it is important to allow your child to express their feelings and deal with grief. A pet memorial would be a crucial part of the process for a child and the entire family, she said.

“Ask the child and give them choices in ways they would want to memorialize their pet and maybe each child can think of something they want to do; a burial outside, pictures in places around the house, creating a scrapbook, or a special ceremony to talk about the memories they had with their pet is important and helps them deal with grief,” she said. “This will open lines of communication which is so important when a child suffers from the death of a pet.”

According to Durham Region registered vet technician Sarah Macdonald, it is required of veterinarian clinics to dispose of a pet’s body once it passes away. A large majority of clinics also offer cremation, she said.

According to Ms. Macdonald and Ontario.ca, homeowners are permitted to bury their pets on their own property. For those living in an apartment, Ms. Macdonald recommends cremation.

The ashes can be kept in a special urn inside the pet owner’s home or be scattered in a special location for a ceremony or as part of a memorial, she said.

For those looking for more ways to memorialize their pets with keepsakes, funerals, cremation ceremonies, and more, Ms. Macdonald recommends Gateway Pet Memorial, specializing in pet aftercare throughout North America.

Parents should be focusing on positive coping strategies by modelling self-expression, letting the child know that it is OK and normal to have these feelings of sadness and that it is important to express, said Ms. Newstadt.

“Children experience grief in different ways from adults; there is no right or wrong way,” she added. “They may appear to be coping well and weeks later experience sadness. Meet the child where they’re at.”

According to Ms. Newstadt, parents shouldn’t approach the conversation until the child is expressing sadness.

“It’s OK if the child isn’t demonstrating that they’re sad, there is no right or wrong way to experience grief,” she said. “It is typical for a child to ask questions or to say they’re feeling sad and then engage in play, it’s a developmentally appropriate way of grieving.”

Complete Article HERE!

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10/16/17

Learn to Cope With Death as a Future Physician

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Prospective medical school students can use volunteer experiences to learn how to care compassionately for dying patients.

As a prospective medical student, remember to take the time to grieve.

By Kathleen Franco, M.D.,

Most prospective medical school students set out to become physicians because they want to heal the sick, often forgetting that patients, young and old, sometimes die.

Death is a very real – and natural – part of medicine that you will not only face but also will need to learn how to handle. Before you start medical school, consider how you might care compassionately for a dying patient and how you will cope with the loss.

Some physicians – although very few in my experience – look at death as defeat and cope by emotionally running away from dying patients. For example, in the inpatient setting, they may visit the patient less often or avoid contact altogether.

In the outpatient setting, they might recommend a longer time between visits or, rather than suggest a follow-up appointment, wait for the patient to request one. This coping strategy makes patients feel abandoned.

Other physicians – again, very few – cope by behaving callously or indifferently. Subconsciously, they may be trying to avoid emotional involvement, but their behavior leaves their patients and families feeling hurt and disappointed.

Most physicians find healthy strategies to support their dying patients. These same strategies help physicians keep themselves emotionally healthy, too.

As a future medical student, it’s vital that you prepare yourself to compassionately face death and dying and the complex emotions that follow. One way to do this is by volunteering in a hospice facility or nursing home and honing these six skills.

1. Be authentic: As a volunteer, introduce yourself and express your hope that someday you wish to become a physician. Let patients know you are there to learn more about their experiences.

Ask patients about how they grew up or what they were thinking about at your age. Ask about their work or career – a generally safe place emotionally – and where they have lived or about their family.

Be sure to make eye contact and watch your body language. You’ll use these skills when you’re a physician to develop trust and open communication with patients.

2. Listen with purpose: Practice your active listening skills so that on future visits you can ask patients more about previous conversations.

By bringing up something from a past visit, you will show that you remembered what they told you and that they matter to you as a person. Active listening is another skill you will use throughout your medical career.

3. Allow patients to talk about death: Everyone faces death differently; some people want to talk about it, while others prefer to reflect on their life and accomplishments.

Whether now as a volunteer or later as a future physician, let patients talk about death as they need to. Don’t shut down the conversation by saying, “Everything will be all right.” Instead, ask them to tell you more. Listen to all they have to say, whether it’s about their health, fears or fond memories.

4. Visit or connect consistently: A good physician builds rapport over time, and you can develop this skill through your volunteer position. During extended time between visits, call or drop the patient a note.

This is a good habit to develop so that when you are a physician, your patients – particularly those who are dying – will feel supported. At the end of each visit, thank the patient. You won’t know at the time if it will be your last opportunity to visit, so treasure each interaction.

5. Seek support: Myriad scholarly articles and books are available to help physicians – and all people – accept that death is an inevitable part of life and that grieving is normal and encouraged. For instance, attending funerals help some people grieve, while others seek solace from support groups or counseling.

Social workers also deal with death and dying regularly and can give you advice about how they cope and prevent burnout. Make the social work team part of your professional network. Their support and advice will help you cope as a physician, especially when you lose a patient who had a particular influence on you.

6. Allow yourself to grieve: Over the course of your relationships with patients who are dying, you will learn a great deal about your capacity to care for others. It will likely hurt when patients die.

Remember that it’s important to grieve, and keep in mind that everyone grieves differently. Give yourself the room to process your emotions and to discover the coping mechanism that’s right for you.

Over time, you will gain some insight about your ability to cope. Physicians often cope by speaking confidentially with colleagues and expressing sadness and other emotions in a journal. After omitting a patient’s protected health information, some physicians publish their writings to help themselves and others who are grieving.

Many medical schools also teach students to reflect about their emotions and write them down. Writing and seeing the words help the healing process.

As a future medical student, embrace the opportunity to get to know someone who is dying. It will allow you to reflect on how you may feel when a future patient dies and learn to create a meaningful bond with the people you touch now and in the future.

Complete Article HERE!

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10/10/17

Being a Funeral Director Made Me Realize the Death Industry Is Too Exclusive

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By Caleb Wilde

It was nearly six in the morning when I heard the sounds of hovering helicopters a couple hundred yards away from my house. At the time, my wife, Nicki, and I lived in a small half of a double on the farthest fringe of the Borough of Parkesburg. While the occasional helicopter could be heard in the Parkesburg proper, our little house on Upper Valley Road was sandwiched by the sounds of the trains that ran on the tracks a hundred feet from our small backyard and the speeding cars on Upper Valley a mere 20 feet from our front door.

I peeked my head outside the window but couldn’t see the machines that were producing the sounds I could so clearly hear. The idea that something must be very wrong entered my mind. I turned on the television, and sure enough, the Philadelphia station I turned on had a breaking news update. The rhythmic and practiced voice of the news anchor read the prompter with all the outward concern he could exercise: “Two young boys and their aunt and uncle died in a fiery car crash outside of Parkesburg, Chester County, late last night.”

Parkesburg is an hour outside of Philadelphia. We’re the small town of 3,500 that claims Philadelphia as our closest “big city” while Philadelphia has no idea we even exist, except when something horrific happens. This morning, Parkesburg had made the news. Today, Philadelphia reporters descended upon Parkesburg to fill their 6 a.m. quota.

There have been a few times when Facebook has informed me of a death before the family has called us at the Wilde Funeral Home, where I work with my father and grandfather. But this was the first time I had turned on the television and watched aerial footage of a disaster that was soon to be passed onto me. When I got to the funeral home later that morning, I learned we were the ones entrusted to handle the services for all four of the deceased. The two adults (the aunt and uncle of the boys, who were babysitting them at that time) were to be cremated, while the boys, 8 and 10 years of age, were to be embalmed and viewed, depending on the condition of their bodies.

The following day — after the coroner performed her duty — I drove our van to remove the two adults first (our removal van comfortably fits two in the supine position). After I dropped them off at the funeral home, I jumped back in the van to pick up the bodies of the two boys. When I go on these tragic calls, I’ll usually either sit in silence or find some upbeat music on the radio to distract me from the void. It can be anything — Pop music. Oldies. Katy Perry.

After driving the bodies home, it was my duty to unzip the body bags for the two boys to see if their faces could be made presentable for a public viewing. The smell of burnt human flesh is somewhat distinct. It sticks to your hair, to your clothing, and when I opened those bags, what I saw will forever stick in my mind. You’ve seen the Hollywood versions of burn victims, and it’s all horrible, but the visuals we see on the TV screen don’t do justice to these tragic deaths. All deaths have a type of presence, but tragic deaths have a presence that fills a room. I don’t know if I believe in ghosts, but I do believe that the dead have some kind of aura.

I had to look at the boys’ faces to determine whether or not we could have a viewing, hoping to find a visage that could — through hours of work — be presentable to the family. Unfortunately, I didn’t find what I was looking for and had to inform their stricken parents that a public viewing was outside of our ability, which — in a way — produces a small sense of guilt in me. Whether the pressure is from an inward or an outward expectation, there’s always this nagging feeling that we should be able to restore any form of disfigurement, that embalmers should possess some Harry Potter magic in our prep room and magically wave our trocar (a large needle-like instrument we use during embalming), and then “poof” we have beautiful corpses. But there is no magic trocar. And there are no mystical chants.

The family was broken in more ways than one. They were fighting about who would officiate the service. One part of the family wanted a nonreligious service while the other side wanted a Christian service. Threats were made. Words were spoken that should never be spoken, and we had to involve the police. The day before the service a police officer came to the funeral home to go over the plan of action if the funeral became volatile.

As we were going over the funeral procession route with the officer, I collapsed and momentarily lost consciousness; the policeman called the ambulance, and I was taken to the hospital’s emergency room with what would later be generically diagnosed as physical exhaustion.

On my way to the hospital, not knowing what was happening to me, I had a moment of unshackled clarity: Was this what I wanted to do? Is this who I wanted to be?

* * *

Months before I found myself in the back of that ambulance, watching the strobe lights bounce off nearby houses and road signs, I found myself struggling with depression and compassion fatigue. My doctor had prescribed me antidepressants to combat the day-to-day experience of depression, but there wasn’t anything for rejuvenating my burnout.

The first couple years of working at the funeral home, I felt like a duck swimming in deep water. From the outside, I was calm, confident, and natural, but underneath, I was kicking furiously against the darkness. Although I knew what I was getting into when I joined the funeral business, it wasn’t my closeness to death that was destroying me; it was how I viewed it. If someone had suggested to me then that there’s beauty in death, that there’s goodness in death, that death could inspire a healthy spirituality, I would have thought them both morose and naïve.

Even though I had grown up around death — funeral director was the family profession on both my mother’s and father’s side — I was just as susceptible as anyone to what I call the “death negative narrative” that so many of us have come to believe. On a practical level, I had seen too many tragic, traumatic, and horrific deaths portrayed on TV, the internet, and at work. And beyond the normalization of extremes via the media, the death-negative narrative is wired into our very biology. Humans are a most advanced death-defying machine.

We have highly evolved systems to fight against the onslaught of death, foremost of which is a brain that sets us above all our competition. And that brain has kept us alive and given us the chance to evolve through its fight-or-flight mechanisms. Death is our oldest evolutionary enemy, and we are so advanced at fighting it that for about 50 to 90 years, most of us win. Still, fearing death is part of our biology; it numbs our minds whenever we try to think about it, and even the most rational among us struggles to find clarity when confronted with the death-negative narrative.

Another thing that made me susceptible to the death-negative narrative is that even though I had seen thousands of dead bodies, I had never seen someone die. Many have had the privilege of holding the hand of a loved one as he or she passed, but many others of us haven’t, in part because the dying process has been isolated in nursing homes and hospitals. In times past and in many other cultures outside the United States, death and dying happen in home and community, with family and friends acting as death doulas, leading the dying through their final life stage. Today, though, doctors and nurses have replaced family and friends, an unintended consequence of the advancement of medical science. We fear death because we don’t know it, we don’t see it, and we don’t touch it.

* * *

Dressing a loved one, caring for him or her after the person has passed away is a great example of what a good death, a positive narrative, looks like. Part of what contributes and perpetuates the death-negative culture we find ourselves in is that death care has become an industry that has told people, This is beyond your capabilities to handle. Death is scary, messy, gross, sad. Let us take care of it for you.

When the funeral industry professionalized death care and did away with the “community undertaker,” it implicitly and legally made death amateurs of everyone else. With doctors having authority over dying, and funeral directors gaining authority over death, it created a culture of death virgins, people who have little experience and know-how when it comes to the end stage of life. The funeral industry is partially to blame for creating the “death professional”; after all, the industry has worked hard to secure our position by creating laws and educational requirements to make us at least seem like the exclusive practitioners of death care.

But it wasn’t just capitalist undertakers who created this professional and amateur divide. Part of the reason the funeral industry buried the community undertaker was because death doesn’t jibe with the modern American vision and those Americans who embrace it. Death questions our delusion of self-mastery. So let’s just ignore it. Or better yet, let’s find someone else to handle it.

Americans found a “win-win” situation by giving their dying and dead over to a willing nursing home industry, hospital care that stays death like an overdue pregnancy, and a funeral industry that happily disposes of our dead. We’ve created multiple groups of professionals to handle our dead, and we pay loads of money for the service.

Funeral directors are one of those groups. We perform the magical disappearing act when we take your body, embalm it, dress it, casket it, and give you back a sleeping corpse unscathed by the deterioration of decomposition. Cremation is no different. The body is whisked away and comes back in a small little box, with little to no family participation. This magic is modern and means people never get to touch death or care for their dead.

The axiom is simple, although forgotten, or ignored: the more we practice death care, the less we fear death itself; the closer we become to our dead, the less we fear death. In much of the history of our world, people have been much closer to death than they are now.

But sometimes, families transcend the narrative for just a little, and instead of being an audience to the funeral process, they take the active role, pulling away the magic and making death visible once again. They take death into their hands and decide they are the professionals. In fact, many Amish still dress and casket their loved ones. The funeral director will embalm the deceased and then the Amish family will take the body into their care. Some families will wash the deceased, then they’ll gently clothe the deceased and place the body into the plain wooden casket. Many Mormons, Muslims, and Jews all do the same. This is one of the luxuries of a close-knit community. And when the family of Tommy Ricci, a friend of my grandfather, called to let us know Tommy had died, it was a luxury I wanted to offer them, too.

My grandfather agreed. “Why don’t you ask them,” he said.

We rolled the stretcher through the front door, walked it over to the bed where Tommy lay. My grandfather invited anyone who wanted to to help lend a hand, and in a couple of seconds a good dozen people surrounded Tommy’s bed; we grabbed the bed’s mattress sheet, cocooned his body with it, and passed his body over to the stretcher. After we had strapped him on the stretcher, my grandfather confirmed the time we’d meet with them tomorrow for the funeral arrangements, instructed them to bring the clothing they wanted Tommy to wear for the viewing, and then left the conversation open for my question.

I cleared my throat, not sure how they’d respond to what I was about to ask them. I said, “Would you guys be interested in dressing Tommy for his funeral?”

Tears stared running down the face of Tommy’s wife. His sisters started, too.

Amid the tears, they responded, “Could we?” And with my yes, Tommy’s wife embraced me and started sobbing on my shoulder. By the time she was done hugging me, I had joked that she’d have to pay to have her snot dry-cleaned off my suit.

The next day, Christmas Eve, the Riccis were at our front door, clothing in hand. They made the funeral arrangements with Pop-Pop, and when they were finished, I guided them to the dressing room while explaining how the process of dressing a dead body worked. “Grief brain” is like being drunk. It’s hard to be “in the moment” as nearly 80 to 90 percent of your brain energy is being redirected to grasping the new normal of life after loss. I wasn’t sure if Tommy’s family’s grief brain would keep them from being able to do the task at hand. Maybe they’d burst into tears and storm out of the dressing room. Maybe they wouldn’t be able to stomach seeing the incision near his collarbone from the embalming.

They walked into the dressing room with stoic faces, bent on not being encumbered by the obvious emotional weight of the whole thing. We laid out the clothing and cut Tommy’s undershirt, dress shirt, and sport coat down the back. We used the body lifter to put his underwear, pants, and socks on. Then we tucked in the shirt, laced the belt through his pants. One of the sisters combed his hair and styled it. They all talked to him, just like I do when I’m with bodies.

Are your pants too tight? I’ll loosen that belt.

Let me get your hair just how you liked it. You could be a pompous thing with this hair of yours.

I know you hated dressing up, but you have a big day coming, gonna see a lot of people.

On the day of the service, all of Tommy’s family and over two hundred other people showed up to the church. It was a few days after Christmas, and the church was still dressed in its Advent outfitting. Wreaths and candles filled the air with holiday scents, and the cheer that seeps into this special time of year was still detectable.

Because life is this beautiful, complex, and messy web of giving ourselves away to others, and allowing others to give themselves to us, shouldn’t our dying process be supported by those who created our web of life? Shouldn’t our death be supported, not by a single funeral home or funeral director, but by these life connections that have been created by us and those that have created us? Funeral directors hold incredible value — and we’ve always existed in one form or another — because death is hard, but I believe bereaved families are robbing themselves and our loved ones by capitulating dying and death over to the “experts.”

Tommy’s family taught me that anyone can — and should — be a part of the death-care process. And I’m sorry our sometimes-capitalist intentions have made people “amateurs.” I’m sorry that we’ve helped exacerbate the fear of death by monopolizing death care, but I think together, in the messiness of life and death, we can find a way to grow closer to our dying and our dead.

Complete Article HERE!

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10/2/17

Grief in the time of social media

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When Alexis Roberts Keiner’s 9-week-old son died unexpectedly at day care in 2012, “we had to choose very quickly what kind of bereaved family we were going to be.” She shared her story with attendees of an emotional panel on grief in the digital age, which was led by ePatient advisor Liza Bernstein, at this weekend’s Stanford Medicine X conference.

“We posted on Facebook of all places, the place where you share cat videos and political rants and everything else, that our son has unexpectedly died,” she said. “Our community showed up for us in the most incredible way. We did not eat a meal alone for six weeks.”

As both an artist and a grieving mother, Keiner needed ways to express her grief. She decided to paint the box her son would be cremated in with images from his life. Explaining that she wanted to “care for this child in death” as she did in his life, she said she ultimately shared a photo of the box on social media. Almost immediately, she said, friends and family reached out from around the globe.

“The heaviness of grief is so immense that when others grieve with you they help hold up the weight,” she said. Since the death of her son, she has paid this idea forward by reaching out to others who have lost a child, mostly through Facebook, by writing letters to friends, and friends of friends, who are recently bereaved.

Patient-advocate Liz Salmi addressed the audience next, explaining how she was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly after her 29th birthday. “There’s no right way to respond to a cancer diagnosis, but my way to respond was with curiosity,” she said. “Because my background is in digital communications I immediately started blogging.”

Salmi said she intended the blog to be used as a way to communicate complicated parts of her diagnosis and treatment for family and friends. However, as patients like Salmi searched for answers, her blog quickly began picking up followers and through it and other social media channels like Twitter a community developed.

“I have become friends with so many people with brain cancer that I refer to them as my ‘brain cancer friends’. I have my real life friends. I have my work friends. I have my brain cancer friends,” said Salmi, later explaining that “these are people I tweet with daily. Even near the end of life.”

Salmi also shed light on a difficult aspect of having friends that she’s never met IRL (in real life). “Sometimes they just disappear and we end up playing the detective game to determine if they’ve died or just dropped off of social media,” she explained. In this new reality, “as more of us develop relationships with people we know online only, I wonder how we will learn to cope?” 

And what of the people who don’t regularly connect with others in the digital world, or who have historically been discouraged to do so? Michael Fratkin, MD, was there to give the physician perspective, noting that doctors often compartmentalize their personal and professional lives and that “being trained to not share is woven into the fabric of medical education.” While some may assume this helps doctors better cope with death, he argued that: “It’s the exact opposite. Our compartmentalization is actually a source of great distress, lack of empathy and misunderstanding.”

A palliative care doctor, Fratkin has had about 2,000 patients die over the last 11 years, and when patients died it often felt as if they had just “disappeared into the blackness.” But things are now changing, he said, as the digital world offers important tools to help him connect with patients and grieving families.

“Social media has been very important to the work I’ve been doing,” he said. “It’s woven me more intimately into the community relationships that the people that I care for exist in.”

Bernstein, meanwhile, drew on her personal history of multiple losses (starting with the suicide of her father when she was 4 years old) and experiences in digital communities including #BCSM (breast cancer social media), to envision, curate, and convene this panel. Bernstein said her goal was to “bring humanity, dignity, kindness, and a healthy sense of humor to this sensitive but important topic.”

Complete Article HERE!

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09/30/17

How to Cope with Anticipatory Grief and Ambiguous Loss

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What to do when the person you are grieving is here but not here

By Cynthia Orange

The longer we live and the more we experience, the more we find ourselves in the cracks between joy and contentment on one side of life’s continuum and grief and loss on the other. Children leave our nests, we move from vocations to avocations — from retirement to, as a dear friend puts it, “re-aspirement.” Addresses, relationships, bodies, even spouses, can change. More loved ones get more serious diagnoses. Sometimes we get dreaded medical test results ourselves.

When someone dies, the loss seems clear. But what about those times when grief is anticipatory — when the diagnosis is terminal and we grieve the inevitable? Or times when the loss is ambiguous? Perhaps a parent shows signs of dementia, a son or daughter in the military is missing in action or returns from combat with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or a dear friend has a serious stroke. Maybe a loved one is in the throes of addiction. What was has changed, replaced by uncertainty.

When You Are Caught in ‘Frozen Grief’

University of Minnesota emeritus professor and family therapist Pauline Boss, author of Ambiguous Loss, calls this state of complicated loss “frozen grief.” A loved one might be physically present but psychologically absent, as in the case of Alzheimer’s or other mental disorders. Or he or she might be psychologically present (to us) but physically absent, as in the case of a child gone missing or a tragedy like 9/11 where many bodies were never recovered. More common situations like divorce, adoption or estrangement can also cause confusing feelings of ambiguous loss.

We are a society that doesn’t do well with ambiguity. We want clarity. We want steps to acceptance. We want closure — a concept that makes me want to tear my graying hair out! Grief is a messy process, and ambiguous loss even messier.

“My point is very different, that ambiguous loss is a complicated loss, which causes, therefore, complicated grief, but it is not pathological. . . it’s a pathological situation,” said Boss in a 2016 interview with Krista Tippett, host of Public Radio Exchange’s On Being.

Boss, and those in the therapeutic community who have embraced her ideas, give us permission to ride the waves of this type of loss without feeling pressured to “just move on,” as so many expect us to do. Instead of feeling alone in a state of “bewilderness,” we learn that the pangs of grief we have when someone is here — but not here — are normal.

Her Mom’s Wish

As I wrote in my recent book, Take Good Care: Finding Your Joy in Compassionate Caregiving, a woman in my caregivers’ group beautifully described how it feels to ride this sea of rolling emotions:

Mom was in a memory care facility but still willing and able to have us take her out for special occasions. After one Easter family dinner at my house, Mom thanked me for the nice meal, commented on our nice family, then said, “Do you know what I wish?” “What, Mom?” my sister and brother and I all asked. “At times like this, I really wish I had children.”

We are still able to laugh about that memory; sometimes with Alzheimer’s, that’s all you can do. Then you go off to another corner of grief and look for the cracks of light — she still responds to hands that hold and hugs that enfold. She still likes to sit outside and look at the flowers. So here we are. But we are so ready.

A friend of mine compared ambiguous loss to water. Water can run through your fingers, but it can also become ice, still and solid.

“Water, not water, yet water,” she said. Her words helped me deal with the flood of emotions that overwhelmed me when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “Dad, not dad, yet dad,” became my mantra before and after his death.

Your Unique Grief

As these anecdotes demonstrate, loss is as varied as the people who experience it, and we deal with it differently.

“The only expert on grief is the person experiencing a particular loss at a particular time. You,” writes Tom Ellis, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of This Thing Called Grief. “Grief is so personally unique and changing that getting your mind and heart around it once and for all is impossible. Just when you reach a place of understanding, it changes again…. Despite this dilemma, there is value in gathering as much information as possible, in pulling together some tools to help.”

Tips for Coping

Here are some suggestions for people supporting someone, or those in the midst of their own ambiguous loss:

  • Don’t pressure yourself or others to “just move on.” As a therapist friend once told me, there is no closure for this type of grief — you just learn to carry it differently.
  • Be tender with yourself and try to take comfort in the knowledge that your feelings are normal. However, get the help of a qualified professional if your feelings overwhelm you to the degree they affect your ability to function or if you seek to escape them through addictive or harmful behaviors.
  • Seek support from family and friends who love, affirm and listen to you with open mind and ears and non-judgmental hearts.
  • Set and maintain appropriate and respectful boundaries. Although well intentioned, some caregivers tend to swoop in with answers or directives, when the best they can do is be with you in your ambiguity. As Ellis points out, “Loss is the problem, not you.”
  • Loss and grief can take their toll, so self-care is extremely important. Exercise, meditation, nature, journaling, play and laughter can all help. We each have different balance points and tipping points, but we can usually sense when things are out of balance.
  • Ask for, and accept, help when needed and offered. Let friends garden or clean for or with you. Let them take you to dinner or watch your children. So many caregivers have told me what a gift it is to do something to lift the burden or spirits of someone in need.
  • Make room for grief and loss, but try to take time each day to notice the beauty that surrounds us.

Each of our stories is unique, so the way in which we process loss will differ. But it is important to remember that we do not travel alone.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/25/17

The Poetry of Death

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When death, as public as a President or as private as a lover, overwhelms us, it speaks itself in elegy’s necropoetics.

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Jane Kenyon and I almost avoided marriage because her widowhood would have been so long, between us was there such a radical difference in age. And yet today it is twenty-two years since she died, of leukemia, at forty-seven—and I approach ninety. I was a high-school freshman and decided to write poems five years before Jane was born. She finished primary school in 1958, the year that I took a teaching job in her home town of Ann Arbor. With me came my wife, Kirby, and my son, Andrew; my daughter, Philippa, arrived three years later. The marriage crumbled after a decade, and I endured five wretched years of promiscuity and booze. To our endless good fortune, Jane and I found each other and, three years later, I quit teaching and we moved to New Hampshire. My children came east for their education and remained here as our neighbors. In my twenty years with her, everything in my poetic history happened again, this time to Jane: her first poem in Poetry, her first book, her second, an N.E.A. fellowship, her third book, a Guggenheim, her fourth book, multiple poetry readings, her reputation rising and spreading.

When we knew for certain that she was about to die, she told me the whereabouts of her unpublished poems, and I read them for the first time. They were dazzling, and I faxed them to the New Yorker. When we heard back from the poetry editor Alice Quinn a few days later, Jane’s eyes were open but she couldn’t see. I told her that Quinn was taking seven poems. She had stopped speaking, but her oncologist said that she could still hear.

Poetry begins with elegy, in extremity, as Gilgamesh laments the death of his companion Enkidu, watching worms crawl out of Enkidu’s neck. Homer sings of heroes as they die in battle, and Priam weeps to see the body of his son Hector dragged around the walls of Troy. Virgil follows Aeneas from the graveyard of Troy to the founding of Rome, Dido’s pyre flaming on the way. In the fifteenth century, poetry emigrated from Chaucer’s England north to the Scots, where William Dunbar wrote his elegy for the makers—in Greek, a poet is a “maker”—and grieved over twenty-five dead and dying Scots poets. Not a line from them remains. In “Lament for the Makaris,” Dunbar writes:

I that in heill wes and gladnes,
Am trublit now with gret seiknes,
And feblit with infermitie;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He hes done petuously devour
The noble Chaucer, of makaris flour,
The Monk of Bery, and Gower, all thre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

He hes Blind Hary and Sandy Traill
Slaine with his schour of mortall haill,
Quhilk Patrik Johnestoun might nocht fle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

The refrain translates as “the fear of death confounds me,” but conturbat is more violent than “confounds.” A few years later, in Shakespeare’s English, Hamlet dies, Lear dies, and Prospero dies. In Milton’s “Lycidas,” the vowels of lament are golden, as erotic in sound as they are in “Paradise Lost,” but the grief is formal, not intimate; literary, not literal. Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” embodies grief before resolving it by theology. The profoundest or most mournful American lament is Whitman’s for Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” A great elegy from the seventeenth century, rooted among the best poems of the English language, is Henry King’s “The Exequy”:

Accept thou Shrine of my dead Saint,
Insteed of Dirges this complaint;
And for sweet flowres to crown thy hearse,
Receive a strew of weeping verse . . .

His bride has died in her twenties: “Thou scarce had’st seen so many years / As Day tells houres . . . ” In almost a hundred lines, tetrameter couplets hurtling with a passion of grief, King looks ahead to his own death and the inevitable reunion with his bride. It is not compensatory.

Sleep on my Love in thy cold bed
Never to be disquieted!
My last good night! Thou wilt not wake
Till I thy fate shall overtake:
Till age, or grief, or sickness must
Marry my body to that dust
It so much loves; and fill the room
My heart keeps empty in thy Tomb.

When Jane and I lived in New Hampshire together, we suffered the deaths of dear friends and of cousins. Edna Powers, the granddaughter of my grandfather’s brother, was a parishioner of the South Danbury Christian Church—affectionate, large, warm, outspoken. She died, in her late fifties, on the operating table at the Franklin Hospital. I read Henry King’s “Exequy” aloud.

When death, as public as a President or as private as a lover, overwhelms us, it speaks itself in elegy’s necropoetics, be the subject a twenty-five-year-old bride or Enkidu or Edna Powers or Blind Harry or Abraham Lincoln or Jane Kenyon. “The Exequy” kept me company again when Jane died.

When I was nine or ten, Great-Uncle Wilfred felt a pain in his back at Cousin Nannie’s funeral. We buried him five months later. I woke in the night hearing myself declare, “Now death has become a reality.” My first poem, at twelve, was “The End of All.” At one point, I decided that if we flattered death, it might spare us, so I wrote “Praise for Death.” Between my two years at Oxford, I returned to the United States for my own wedding. My New Hampshire grandparents couldn’t attend—the year before, my grandfather had suffered a malfunction in a heart valve. The day after the wedding, before sailing to England, Kirby and I had only a day to drive to the farm where I had spent my childhood summers, listening to my grandfather’s stories, haying with him every afternoon, eating my grandmother’s chicken fricassee or red flannel hash for dinner. My mother’s father, Wesley Wells, had been my life’s love, the measure of everything. Kirby met Kate and Wesley; we ate a hen fresh from the henyard; we chatted; and when Kirby and I started upstairs for sleep, Wesley could not help but tell a funny story. The night he and Kate married, Kate’s cousin Freeman had wired a cowbell to their bedsprings.

Three days later, Kirby and I boarded the Queen Elizabeth for England and Oxford. In March, the airmail letter from my mother arrived—transatlantic telephone calls had to be scheduled—telling me that my family was burying my grandfather. In our Banbury Road flat, for a season, I sat at my desk writing “An Elegy for Wesley Wells,” fiercely iambic, making him the high point of the dying world. “Soon I will leave, to cross the hilly sea / And walk again among the familiar hills / In dark New Hampshire where his widow wakes.”

Two and a half years after our wedding, Kirby gave birth. When the baby turned out to be a boy, we named him after my father and me, Donald Andrew Hall. We would call him Andrew. Every night, with pleasure, I gave him his 2 A.M. bottle. Every day, I worked on a poem called “My Son My Executioner.” The New Yorker published it, an anthologist put it in a college textbook, teachers assigned it, and for decades textbook anthologies reprinted it. I was the fellow whose son strapped him into the electric chair.

My son, my executioner,
I take you in my arms,
Quiet and small and just astir
And whom my body warms.

Sweet death, small son, our instrument
Of immortality,
Your cries and hungers document
Our bodily decay.

We twenty-five and twenty-two,
Who seemed to live forever,
Observe enduring life in you
And start to die together.

In Andrew’s first autumn, Kirby enrolled for her senior year of college. We had married after her junior year. I fed Andrew breakfast while his mother took classes and studied or wrote papers at the library. I gave him his bath, played with him, changed his diapers, put him down for his morning nap, changed his diapers again, walked around with the baby on my shoulder, and gave him another bottle. At noon Kirby relieved me. I liked to be part-time mother while remaining the father of my executioner.

My father turned fifty-two on December 6, 1955. He died, of lung cancer, two weeks later, and we buried him, on Christmas Eve, in the Whitneyville Cemetery in Hamden, Connecticut, a block from the house he grew up in. During his seven months of dying, I drove the two hours to see him once a week. He could not speak outright of his approaching death. In a low voice that cracked and shuddered, he murmured, “if anything . . . should happen . . . to me . . .” Week after week I watched as his skin paled, he grew frailer. My mother, Lucy, rubbed his balding head. He died a few hours before one of my weekly visits. The last time I sat with him alive, I thought that every breath might be his last. I had not yet observed the brain-stem breathing—three quick breaths, a pause, and a long one—that I would see as my ninety-seven-year-old grandmother, and, twenty years later, my wife, died.

Everyone was there for my father’s funeral. My grandmother took the train from New Hampshire, from the tiny depot of Gale, three-quarters of a mile from the farm. She wore her Sunday black dress. Kirby brought Andrew, and I remember him playing with a plastic toy telephone. My mother, a widow at fifty-two, hadn’t had a night’s sleep for many months. She would live until almost ninety-one without dating another man. It was cold as we buried him in the early darkness.

For many months afterward I worked on “Christmas Eve in Whitneyville.” I used Thomas Gray’s stanza, if not the rhythms, of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” It was the best poem I had written, and it lamented that my father never did what he wanted to do. “’The things I had to miss,’ you said last week, / ‘Or thought I had to, take my breath away.’ ” I decided that, for the rest of my life, I would do what I wanted to do. I sent the poem to the Kenyon Review, the prestigious literary magazine of its day, and John Crowe Ransom accepted it, calling it “pious.”

Jane’s own necropoems began when her father died. During his cancer, she and I flew from New Hampshire to Michigan and, with her mother, took turns staying up all night beside him. Not long after he died, Jane’s poems attended my almost-death. Two years before her leukemia, I lost half of my liver to cancer. My surgeon said that, after such an operation, a man of my age had a thirty per cent chance of living five years. We wept driving home from the hospital. She showed me her poem “Pharaoh” as I lay in bed recovering from surgery:

I woke in the night to see your
diminished bulk lying beside me—
you on your back, like a sarcophagus
as your feet held up the covers. . . .
The things you might need in the next
life surrounded you—your comb and glasses,
water, a book and a pen.

“Is it all right?” Jane said, bending anxiously over me in the bedroom’s half-light. Jane had the habit of repeating a difficult sentence with a heavier emphasis. She said again, “Is it all right?” “It’s a wonderful poem,” I said as I finished it. I paused and added that, yes, it was remarkable to read of my own death, I was so used to writing about other people’s. When I was still skinny with chemotherapy, she showed me a draft of “Otherwise” beginning:

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.

As she showed me the poem, it ended two stanzas later: “But one day, I know, / it may be otherwise.” I wonder if Jane suspected that I would change a word; frequently, we revised each other. I crossed out “may” and wrote “will.” And so it was, but not as we assumed.

When, twenty-odd years later, the New York composer Herschel Garfein set several of my poems to music for tenor and piano, he mentioned my name as he visited the medical school at Columbia. “Oh, yes,” a doctor-teacher told Garfein. “We use him.” After I published my book of poems about Jane’s death, many medical schools used me. Sometimes they invited me to read to their students and to answer questions. Twice, the University of Utah flew me from New Hampshire to Salt Lake City to read my poems at the School of Medicine. I told student doctors about our oncologist, Kris Doney, in Seattle, where Jane had her bone marrow transplant. Dr. Doney adhered to Jane’s suffering and to my own as husband and lover. After the successful transplant and our return to New Hampshire, when Jane’s leukemia outwitted her new marrow, Dr. Doney flew cross-country for Jane’s funeral.

Stories of dying and death used to reside outside medical discourse. Death was medical failure, and doctors concentrated on the not yet dead. Then, in the second half of the twentieth century, attention turned to the only event common to everyone. In 1967, in England, the doctor Cicely Saunders founded St. Christopher’s Hospice, not to prolong life but to comfort the dying. Death and grief were subject to intimate analysis in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s “On Death and Dying.” Gradually, we have equipped ourselves to think and talk about the dread of terminal suffering. Palliative care has become a medical profession, and dying the subject of lyric and narrative attention. Columbia offers a master’s degree in narrative medicine, directed, appropriately, by Dr. Rita Charon. A doctor at the Yale School of Medicine, Anna Reisman, quoted Jane’s last poem, “The Sick Wife,” on NPR, saying that doctors still “don’t really understand what patients are going through.” Ira Byock wrote “Dying Well.” Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” was a bestseller for a year. Every season adds to the literature of dying. Necropoetics includes necromemoir. The young neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi wrote “When Breath Becomes Air” as he was dying of cancer at thirty-six. Smitten with multiple tumors, he continued to operate on patients. While dying, he made his suffering into a devastating memoir. Last year, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Jed Myers, a psychiatrist who lives and works in Seattle, wrote “Poetry’s Company” after he watched his father die over six months of glioblastoma. He quotes from my poems about Jane’s death, then from my friend Christian Wiman, afflicted for decades with his own multiple cancers. Myers ends by addressing the medical profession. “I commend to you, fellow physician, the pragmatically useless treatment called poetry, whereby we might leave our patients less alone when our medicine leaves us all alone.”

Before she became my student, Jane had lived a quiet, rural life, just outside the bustle of Ann Arbor. Her parents were musicians, and she grew up in a house full of books. In junior high, she started writing poems and keeping a journal. She enrolled in the University of Michigan, flunked biology, dropped out, took a job, returned to major in French, studied to be a teacher, switched to English, and took my lecture course in Yeats and Joyce. The following year, she applied to take my poetry workshop, and most of the poems she submitted were slight and fantastic, a habit of the moment that Robert Bly called “light verse surrealism.” Yet one of her poems was darker and stronger. She wrote of trying to capture the attention of her sick grandmother, approaching the hospital bed “like the young nurse with the needle.” The image brought her into my class and altered our lives forever.

In the first three years of our marriage, when we stayed in Ann Arbor, she worked on poems mostly when I flew out of town to do poetry readings. When I was at home my presence appeared to inhibit her. In New Hampshire, for the first time, she worked on poems every day. Here she had no job, no local past nor friends. We had each other, we had our house, we had our landscape, we had my cousins in the small white clapboard church. Every day was devoted to each other or to making poems. She wrote tentatively about inhabiting my place, my history. She saw, or imagined she saw, my ancestors haunting our kitchen. She floated in space like an astronaut detached from the mother ship—or was she attached? She found in the shed a woman’s long gray hair.

A poet from Ann Arbor had moved to Boston, a woman Jane’s age who belonged to the Alice James Poetry Cooperative. Joyce Peseroff recruited Jane, and the Cooperative published her first book, “From Room to Room,” in 1978—the beginning of her career in poetry. Jane and Joyce started a poetry magazine, Green House, addressing their generation of young poets. It was eight years before Jane did another book, the second of the four, but as she published new poems in magazines she came to national attention. I remember when the New Yorker bought its first poem by Jane, “Thinking of Madame Bovary.”

The year when Jane published her first book, I brought out my seventh—that’s what she had to put up with. “Kicking the Leaves” was a breakthrough for me, deriving its force from the ecstasy of marrying Jane and the change from university teaching to life in New Hampshire. My bland first collection, in 1955, had been overpraised. When the second book followed—and the third and the fourth and the fifth and the sixth—no one paid much attention. (Just before “Kicking,” I published a prose reminiscence of older poets. Friendly reviewers found it ironic that the author of “Remembering Poets” had once been a promising poet.) “Kicking the Leaves” was reprinted many times, selling in the end ten times as many copies as my first six titles together. With my marriage to Jane and my return to old sources, I had found myself as a poet.

Meanwhile, Jane’s reputation bloomed, poem after poem and book after book. Three or four times a year she workshopped with Peseroff and Alice Mattison, who published short stories in the New Yorker, and would return from the three-woman workshop triumphant. I watched her excitement and progress with joy and envy.

For decades, she and I had written what could be described as the same sort of poem. It was free verse—mostly short poems in lines of largely similar length, delicate rhythms with forceful enjambments and an assonance of diphthongs. My earliest poems, long before Jane and I knew each other, were rhymed and metrical. Ten years after Jane’s death, out of love for Thomas Hardy and the seventeenth century, I wrote metrical poems again, many of them about Jane. But in the long middle of my life I improvised, like Jane, a sensuous sound without meter. Our work had been different enough—people knew us apart—but we belonged together to a stylistic consensus. Then, as Jane moved from glory to glory, the language of my poems began to diverge from hers. In one lengthy collection, my lines became more ironic and more ingenious in structure. A subsequent, still weaker book collected brief plain poems of anecdotal reminiscence. It appeared just after Jane died, and a compassionate reviewer attributed its failure to my anguish. Over the years I have come to understand how or why my poems altered and deteriorated. Working beside her, I felt overwhelmed as I read “Let Evening Come” and “Briefly It Enters.” I admired the embodiment of her struggle with depression in “Having It Out with Melancholy.” I remember when she handed me “Twilight: After Haying,” one summer after a neighboring farmer finished cutting our fields:

Yes, long shadows go out
from the bales; and yes, the soul
must part from the body:
what else could it do?

The men sprawl near the baler,
too tired to leave the field.
They talk and smoke,
and the tips of their cigarettes
blaze like small roses
in the night air. (It arrived
and settled among them
before they were aware.)

The moon comes
to count the bales,
and the dispossessed—
Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will
—sings from the dusty stubble.

These things happen . . . the soul’s bliss
and suffering are bound together
like the grasses. . . .

The last, sweet exhalations
of timothy and vetch
go out with the song of the bird;
the ravaged field
grows wet with dew.

Such sensuous beauty. As the dew falls the soul eases into bodily receptiveness. These devastating enactments of Jane’s art became daily events. The emotional abundance of her language climbed to the summit of literary achievement, the pupil exceeding her teacher, and I made my poems as unlike Jane’s as I could manage.

When Jane was put to bed in Dartmouth-Hitchcock, an hour north of our house, I rented a motel room next door and spent every day with her. I took notes in brief lines of verse—observations, anecdotes, humors, terrors. I found and used a few of these lines later, when I assembled my poems of her death. Only six months into Jane’s leukemia, I had drafted the poem “Without” in the present tense. She had been diagnosed in January. In the New Hampshire Hospital, as we waited for a stranger’s bone-marrow match and a flight to Seattle in late August, I saw the trees begin to turn yellow from the window. I had not noticed the melt of March nor the green leaves when they arrived in April. We inhabited not the natural world but the landscape of leukemia. I read a draft of “Without” to Jane. From her bed, Jane said, “You’ve got it, you’ve got it!” A year later, I put the poem into the past tense, and eventually it became the title of my book of Jane’s death.

In the weeks after her funeral, I drove four times a day to her grave. I read novels only if they exercised rage and misery—“No Country for Old Men,” not “The Ambassadors.” I took pleasure only in disaster: Oklahoma City, an airplane crash in New York with everyone killed. My days were misery, except for an hour in the morning, when I revised the wailing and whining I had drafted beside her hospital bed. Today I realize that these death poems had already begun to bring my language back to life. One morning I looked out of the window at her garden. Her peonies, basketball-sized, stood tall and still unopened late in May, with weeds starting from the black earth around them. I began the poem that, by autumn, became “Weeds and Peonies.”

Your peonies burst out, white as snow squalls,
with the red flecks at their shaggy centers
in your border of prodigies by the porch.
I carry one magnanimous blossom indoors
and float it in a glass bowl, as you used to do.

Ordinary pleasures, contentment recollected,
blow like snow into the abandoned garden,
overcoming the daisies. Your blue coat
vanishes down Pond Road into imagined snowflakes
with Gus at your side, his great tail swinging,

but you will not reappear, tired and satisfied,
and grief’s repeated particles suffuse the air—
like the dog yipping through the entire night,
or the cat stretching awake, then curling
as if to dream of her mother’s milky nipples.

A raccoon dislodged a geranium from its pot.
Flowers, roots, and dirt lay upended
in the back garden where lilies begin
their daily excursions above stonewalls
in the season of old roses. I pace beside weeds

and snowy peonies, staring at Mount Kearsarge
where you climbed wearing purple hiking boots.
“Hurry back. Be careful, climbing down.”
Your peonies lean their vast heads westward
as if they might topple. Some topple.

It was Jane’s “prodigies”; it was Jane’s “magnanimous” blossoms; it was Jane who saw Gus’s “great tail swinging” and the “repeated particles” of snow. After her death I was able again to assume a diction as potent as Jane’s. I revised and finished “Without” and “The Porcelain Couple” and “The Ship Pounding.” I wrote “Letter With No Address” in our common language, and continued my posthumous one-way correspondence through “Letter After A Year.” After “Without,” I continued to write about Jane in “The Painted Bed,” sometimes returning to metrical forms. In the months and years after her death, Jane’s voice and mine rose as one, spiralling together the images and diphthongs of the dead who were once the living, our necropoetics of grief and love in the singular absence of flesh.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/19/17

Festival of Death and Dying explores topic Australians ignore

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News headlines can feel like a catalogue of death and destruction, but are we really grappling with the reality of human mortality? The answer is no, according to a new festival.

Death and dying festival grapples with human reality

By Eloise Fuss and Lisa Skerrett

The Festival of Death and Dying wants us to stop focusing on our jobs, mortgages, children and relationships for a minute to consider life’s biggest unknown: death.

“We all live in a way as if we’re going to live forever,” said Festival of Death and Dying director Dr Peter Banki.

“To produce a cultural shift we need to do more than just talk about death and dying, I think we need to actively learn more about it, and even experience it in a certain way.”

The festival takes place in Melbourne this weekend after a successful debut in Sydney last year, with plans to also expand to Adelaide and Berlin.

Using art installations and immersive workshops, it hopes to provoke contemplation about how societies mark death and come to terms with the inevitable loss of friends and family.

“[Death] is probably the most difficult thing that any of us will ever have to do, and it’s probably the most important thing one can do for someone else — witnessing someone dying, accompanying them, and taking responsibility for their legacy and their memory,” Dr Banki said.

“You can’t experience death as such, so you need art — it helps us bear witness to it, even if it doesn’t save us from it.”

Mainstream Australia distanced from death

Before modern medical breakthroughs like vaccines and penicillin, it was more common to die at home, meaning most people had firsthand experience of human death.

Traditional funeral rites were also largely a family affair — a far cry from today’s funeral industry, which Dr Banki thinks has “commodified” the personal experience and expression of grief.

“We don’t see death, it’s hidden from us,” he said.

“You have a funeral and you might have a get together afterwards but that’s about it, there’s nothing within the culture that’s there or any type of ritual or ceremonial way to mourn our dead.”

One project helping people create ritual around death is a fashion designer making garments for the grave.

Pia Interlandi combines skills in fashion and funeral celebrancy, working with individuals and families to create bio-degradable clothing to be buried in.

“It neither denies nor flirts with death, but presents it in a way that invites observers to view it as natural, undeniable, inevitable and at times, beautiful,” said Ms Interlandi.

Rituals and mourning

Kopi hats, central to the mourning rituals of some Aboriginal cultures, represent the weight of a woman’s grief.

There is another older way of thinking about death close to home too: the complex mourning rituals of Australia’s Indigenous cultures.

Artist Maree Clarke builds an understanding of grief from an Indigenous cultural perspective, by guiding people through the experience of wearing Kopi mourning caps, or widow’s caps.

“In different areas some women would cut off their hair, weave a net of emu sinews, place it on their head and then plaster their head with gypsum, a very heavy river clay.

“They represented the weight of your grief, so the heavier it was, the bigger connection to the person that had passed.”

Dr Banki said mainstream Australia, which had “completely missed out on these ways of mourning”, had a lot to learn from Aboriginal cultures about dealing with death — and that getting “hands-on” helped in the process.

“There are other people in Australia also working to promote people to learn and have conversations about death and dying, but it’s always within the realm of speech and lectures and talks,” he said.

“We think deep learning happens when people feel something, when people experience something, and for that you have to get them to try on a garment or have to get them to try on a hat, or go into a coffin.”

Artist Maree Clarke builds an understanding of grief from an Indigenous cultural perspective by guiding people through making and wearing a Kopi mourning cap.

Complete Article HERE!

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