When expectations differ

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Julie’s father passed away in August, 2014: “We had all gathered to be there with him when he died and we were ready to let him go.

“He’d been married to my stepmom, Monica, a beautiful Italian Catholic, for about 35 years, but we are Jewish. The Jewish tradition is that the person is wrapped in a very plain shroud, then buried in a very simple coffin, made of very plain wood, like pine. It has no adornments and there is no lead lining or anything like that. It’s something that ensures the body can easily be absorbed back into the earth.

“Just before Dad died, my sister started to talk to my stepmom about the preparations following the Jewish laws. But my stepmom had had a completely different idea about how things would be. For a start, she had expected a cremation, which we don’t do. And she wanted him dressed in his best suit and her favourite bow-tie, and she had planned a very ornate casket for him.

“When my sister pointed out what would be involved when we followed the Jewish burial laws my stepmother was so shocked that she just fainted.  In the end, we all compromised. My father was not cremated but buried in a plot near the family home in Brisbane, since for my sister who is very traditional, a cremation would have been too terrible to contemplate.

“But he was dressed in a funeral home and Monica picked out a casket, the one that she wanted, and he was buried in the bow-tie. The rabbi made no judgements about this and a Catholic priest was also involved. In the end, we honoured Monica’s wishes because she was married to my father and that’s what my father would have wanted.

“It would have helped us all if we’d talked about it beforehand. But the right decision was made at the end of the day.”

The Kiwi Coffin Club

Love the way these baby-boomers are rethinking the end, turning old ideas on their head, the way they always have – while making friends and tap-dancing.

Thanks to my dear friend, writer Katie Delaney, for sharing this.

The fig tree

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Troubled stories from recent deathbeds remind me of a sign at my daughters’ old school: “Beware falling pods!” The sign sat at the base of an enormous native fig tree and when those pods fell, they were like malevolent missiles. Dropping from a great height helped the pods to crack open (along with trampling by school shoes) to reveal their large seeds. Maybe families are like those trees. They grow large and strong and when an elderly parent is dying it’s a very common time for conflict and tension within families to erupt – whether over management of care, how the person’s wishes should be respected or the inheritance of important items from their life, like a ring or a chair. So it’s a time we need the “Beware falling pods!” sign. The pods hurt when they hit, but their forceful drop to shatter open, although unpleasant, is part of the life story of the tree.

Wow! Would you dare host one of these dinners?

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Photo by Amanda Ringstad

I’m wondering: would I be game enough to host one of these dinners? My family are coming over for dinner tonight…..

Thanks Susie P. for letting me know about this fascinating conversation starter.

http://deathoverdinner.org.au/

 

 

 

Author Leah Kaminsky shares her insights

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Leah Kaminsky  (photo by Nicola Bernardi)

When I first started writing my book We’re All Going To Die there weren’t many public conversations on the subject of death, but since then it has really moved along. Sadly, however, it hasn’t moved fast enough. 

I’d like to see death education brought more widely into medical schools, for it to become part of every discussion, such as ethics, and how to communicate with patients, pretty much the same way sex education opened up and was being covered when I was a medical student.

This has happened rather effectively in other countries, such as the USA, with the introduction of ‘medical humanities’ subjects to students – but unfortunately, it hasn’t really taken off in Australia.

If this discussion around death was improved, I think it would really change things. There would be a really good platform for not just doctors but all health professionals, such as nurses or physiotherapists, who day in and day out support the dying.

Currently, there’s no formal debriefing mechanism for doctors and health care specialists. Of course we talk to each other and tell black jokes in the tearoom, but it’s not the same thing. Without more formal support, health professionals carry the impact of their interactions with death in a way that inevitably leads to ‘zooming out’ and a risk of burn-out or compassion fatigue.

Just this week I had to tell a patient, a young man with two small children who was doing well in his career, that he was completely riddled with an inoperable, terminal cancer, that the next thing he should do was go home and get his affairs in order. That’s a really difficult thing to have to tell someone but there is no formal, easily accessible debriefing mechanism for the doctors who must have those sorts of conversations, within our current medical facilities.

I hope this changes in the near future, because if it does, then we in the medical profession will be stronger and better equipped to give a much better quality of support to those experiencing the realities of mortality, either as someone dying, their carers or those who are grieving.

http://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781460749999/#sm.0000wmev8914pnecjwibvqqz696s7

Kaminsky book cover

Have you heard of a death doula?

Victoria Spence, pic by Alana Landsberry, AWW.

A story about the developing work of death doulas can be found on Page 90 in the October issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, available now.

The introduction: “There is a quiet, serene revolution going on in the way we farewell our loved ones. Caroline Baum meets the women, known as death doulas, who prepare the way for the final journey with empathy and love.”

And a quote from Victoria Spence, who is interviewed: “No matter how violent or upsetting the circumstances, my belief is always that being informed and involved is healing, whereas denial is not.”

It’s a fascinating read.

What is a next-of-kin?

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Yesterday I signed on as a dear friend’s next-of-kin, through the NSW police program. My friend lives alone and registering her form with her local police station means if she’s involved in an accident or major incident, I’ll be informed, so will be able to support her.

I’ll let her friends and relatives know, but only to the extent that she wants. Like many of us, she’s needed to create boundaries with some people in recent years.  (This reminds me, I need to get a list from her of exactly who she wants me to contact – and be prepared to rejig it every couple of years .)

A few years ago she went to hospital and I signed a different ‘next-of-kin’ form when she was admitted. This meant I was the point of contact in an emergency. It also meant that if she was transferred to an intensive care unit, or a place where visitors were restricted to one person, I would be that person.

It needs to be remembered that in NSW, next-of-kin has no legal status (unlike in the USA, where NoK is a legal term which relates to inheritance laws.) If my friend wanted me to make any medical decisions on her behalf, should she be unable to communicate, she and I would have to sign an ‘enduring guardian’ form, which is a completely different form again.