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.

Author Leah Kaminsky shares her insights

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.

Kaminsky book cover

Not a time to go it alone


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Words and image by Catherine Arcolio of  Leaf and Twig. To see more of her wonderful work go to:

Today,  a story of successful support from Dorothy Kamaker and her team for Sandra. Dorothy is one of those advocates we need more of: she helps people navigate our confusing modern health care system to get the style of care they want – whether minimal or all out, usually when confronting the worst news, a terminal diagnosis.

Sandra wanted no intervention but as Dorothy points out: “It’s not a time to go it alone.”

“For Sandra, negativity was all consuming. Sandra went literally from a session at the gym to receiving a death sentence at a doctor’s surgery,” says Dorothy.

“Chemotherapy and immunotherapy were unacceptable further assaults. My role has been to understand Sandra’s goals and treatment options and become the independent expert supporter she can rely on to keep those goals at the forefront of her management. To cut a long story short, her house goes to auction in a month, her successful immunotherapy has her telling me ‘if I didn’t have those scan results I would not believe I had a problem’ and ‘the single most unexpected piece of advice you have given me has been to use palliative care as a way to go on living well rather than a last resort option’. The incredible sadness and negativity have disappeared.”

More about Dorothy Kamaker – Independent Patient Supporter  and Advocate – can be found at:


The grey cat

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Image courtesy of 

Had coffee with social commentator Andrew Denton on the weekend to discuss the good death. We disagree on a lot of things – quite fiercely – and at times the argument got very heated. But he said something beautiful, which I do agree with.

“If depression is a black dog, then grief is a grey cat.”

Thank you Andrew!

Letting go – there’s no end to it.

by Tony Doherty 

We are never more human than when we are grieving. A strange claim? Perhaps that statement even sounds a little harsh, unfeeling. Grief can be excruciating. It is almost always accompanied by pain.We try to avoid it – even avoid thinking about it. But stop and consider something deeper for a moment. Grief is the other side of love.

If we love deeply, it is deeply painful to let go.

And yet ‘letting go’ is an inevitable and continuous process in the journey of life.

We let go our childhood.

We let go our adolescence – with all its pimples and self-doubt.

We let go our single life – if we move into committed relationship.

We sometimes have to let go our work – with unemployment, and displacement

We let go our home – the place that has shaped us.

Then there are the biggies.

– to let go our parents – sometimes in death, sometimes into aged care;

– to let go our children from home – if they ever leave??

– to let go our spouses sometimes – with death or divorce

Then inevitably we let go our previous selves. Perhaps our sight gets a little blurry, our hearing a little less acute, our bodies a little less flexible. The changes creep quietly into our days and frequently with little notice.  Ever heard the jokey observation? The three stages of life are – youth, middle age and ‘Wow, you’re looking well!’. Even our friends dodge the truth.

Letting go is hard. Holding on is harder.

Sometimes it seems to me life’s journey is a continual process of letting go.

Something like a long river of releasing one thing after another.

If that be so – we had better learn to swim.

It is a river that can have dangerous rapids and jagged rocks.

You don’t drown by falling into the water. You drown by staying there.

Given the accelerating pace of change, is there any surprise so many are gripped with fear of drowning.

One of the dramatic correctives to this merry-go-round-on-steroids culture, is the ancient wisdom -that we all grow ‘by subtraction’. The arithmetic of our culture is that ‘accumulation is king’. Consuming is the path to satisfaction.

Consider the opposite: perhaps the secret of well-being, of growing, of feeling free is: letting go.

Embracing the practice of letting go is a most difficult and daunting exercise. It can also be an exhilarating one. It applies to our emotions as well as our possessions. 

Letting go of the desire to be in control; to be always right, to have the last word, to be better than others. It is only by stripping yourself of the useless, non-essential baggage of your life that you can live with a sense of well-being.

Perhaps the wisdom lies in swimming. Remember the day you learnt to swim.

Only when you allowed yourself to trust the water, let go the side of the baths, and realise that your body could float, did the marvel of swimming became real.

Letting go and trusting our life is one of the great lessons of this winding river in which we swim.

Read more of  Tony’s wisdom at his blog “Breaking Bread Together”.

Tony and Ailsa Piper are the author’s of the wonderful book The Attachment.




Making a difference

With funeral celebrant Elaine Searle

When Elaine Searle was a young woman her beloved uncle was buried and she was shocked by how bad the funeral was.

“His coffin just slid out of sight, after a few platitudes were said. There was nothing personal.”

“Even though I was only in my early 20s I thought ‘We can do better than this’. It was a thought that was always at the back of my mind.”

Over the years, as Elaine’s life continued, she attended many more funerals. Some were good and some were bad. Some were very, very good and some were very, very bad.

Elaine vowed to make a difference and after working as an English teacher, she became a funeral celebrant, the work she does today.

“It’s not the sort of work you can do without having a real commitment but I love it,” she said.

“ I have a very keen interest in the natural burial movement. I feel we should have the option to be buried in a shroud, in a bushland setting. Our present practices are completely environmentally unsustainable. There is one in Lismore, but as far as I know, little option available in the Sydney area, apart from one Catholic cemetery which has a bushland section.”


Congratulations Noelene!



Noelene graduates today at the Liverpool Hospital Palliative Care Volunteer training program. It’s a great program run by great people. She receives her certificate from Janeane Harlum, the area Palliative Care Manager and Alex Huntir, of Palliative Care NSW.