Introducing Doris Zagdanski, who works with one of the largest funeral providers in Australia. She is also the author of many books about grief.
Doris is currently giving a lot of thought to that most difficult of times – when the funeral is over.
“After the funeral we shut the door and everyone’s life is supposed to go back to normal. But it often doesn’t. That’s when grieving people often need the most support, when the busyness of the funeral is over and they’re left on their own.
“How can we make that better? It’s a challenge for all of us.”
“I began my grief journey eight years ago with the unexpected death of my only child and son, Carl – a beautiful young man, loved by many. His loss left me feeling bereft and fearful about what lay ahead…No day was ever the same. One thing became very clear to me, grief kept changing its form. It was kaleidoscopic in nature, unpredictably variable. During my reflections, metaphors came to me often. I wanted to share many of these – hard-won as they were.
“It could be used as a grief self-help book, as well as a resource for grief and loss counsellors to stimulate discussion and raise grief themes to assist struggling clients. “
Su-Rose’s book is published by Morning Star Publishing.
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.
When I got back from my recent travels in country NSW with family, I found this posting to her followers from Susan Wyndham. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Susan. The genre of reflecting on death and what it means, continues to grow.
From Susan: “You might be interested in The Museum of Words, a beautiful memoir by Australian writer Georgia Blain, who died of brain cancer last December. Here’s my review. If you don’t know her work, I highly recommend her earlier books, including her first memoir, Births Deaths Marriages, and her final novel, Between a Wolf and a Dog, which by coincidence was about a woman with brain cancer.”
“With impending death, the circulation slows, the heartbeat weakens, and the breathing gets slower or more irregular, but just as the heart beat and breathing case, the brain seems to have a burst of activity.” – So says Dr Michael Barbato in a recent interview.
The interview can be found at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. It reminds us that we know so little about the process of dying. It’s also a great introduction to Dr Barbato – who has so many insights into how to be at the deathbed of those we love.
This is one to dip in and out of, as Rosalind suggests. It’s philosophical, wise and spiritual. The 60 contributors share just a page or so of their ideas.
Some say things in a new way. For example, Jennifer Briscoe-Hough: “I know that being able to put my hands on the dead body of someone I love helps my body understand that they have gone – it’s a cellular communication.” Wow!
And then: “I was with her (her mother) when she died and it was like having a hurricane blow through me.It rearranged me, which I think must be the job of this enormous life.”
Others validate what we already know, such as Carol Kamormy: “At the end of a long career (in palliative care) and from personal experience (her own illnesses), I believe that compassion is the most important quality when caring for people at the end of life.”