Death café has been presented and offered at different festivals before. This was Colourfest’s first Death Café and my first time running one at a festival, so I was so delighted to be hosting this one. This festival is described as “A dynamic, beautiful and constantly evolving gem of a gathering celebrating life through connection, ceremony, yoga, dance, music, art, theatre and playfulness.”
I was scheduled for Friday and Saturday. On Friday twenty or so people arrived; the indoor venue room that we were scheduled was not appropriate to use and I was asked to move to the tiny bar which was in fact too small. Unfortunately, a couple of people left and or didn’t stay as they popped in, whilst the others were ok to continue in the compact space.
I began with a minute’s silence to remember those who have gone before and then followed with an introduction of myself and how death cafés began, the purpose of them and then an encouragement to discuss any aspect around death and dying. I suggested that the conversations could be held in small clusters of about three to four small groups. I provided a selection of herbal teas as I thought this would be the most simple method, along with some biscuits. Read More…
In November I had my will re-written and on this occasion it was professionally written by a solicitor. Previously I have done DIY wills bought from the Post Office or a High Street shop. l update my will roughly every five years or so and as I was aware of the Will Aid Scheme, thought that I would do this update as a comparison. Will Aid is a scheme that is available every November, where one can get a will written for a donation of around £95.00. Will Aid is a partnership between the legal profession and nine UK charities. Every November, participating solicitors waive their fee for writing a basic will. Instead, they invite clients to make a voluntary donation to Will Aid –they suggest £95 for a single basic will and £150 for a pair of basic ‘mirror’ wills.
My new will details/wishes were more or less taken from the previous will that I had written, as I brought it in to discuss. The only significant change to note was adding the addresses of those whom I want to benefit from my will. These were advised to be included in the will rather than on a separate piece of paper, and it proved helpful as I became aware that I didn’t have all the addresses. Read More…
Perhaps if death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.
We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.
Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)
When I trained to be a funeral celebrant we were given a folder of wonderful poems, all with a funeral theme (there are also many funeral poems available on the internet). For me, poetry can play a key part in a funeral, because poetry can express the inexpressible, it can both act as a salve, and an attempt to connect to things higher than ourselves. It can also be an attempt to try to understand the mystery of death itself, and the question we often ask when faced with the death of a loved one–or indeed thoughts of our own death–what exactly happens when we die? Read More…
For far too long the dead and dying have been considered the responsibility of strangers: a passage overseen in hospitals and nursing homes, our bodies handed over to professionals, most of whom are caring and compassionate, but we feel powerless. We grieve, not only at the loss of loved ones but our loss of control over both the natural process of dying and arranging anything other than a kind of standard funeral, which whether religious or secular often seems to be devoid of any meaningful spirituality.
Planning for our own deaths poses a similar challenge, with the added difficulty for many of us that our families may not fully understand or support our needs. Perhaps, we think, if we plan ahead we can at least make our wishes clear – but many of the plans on offer seem only to follow the usual pattern, and they are expensive! The average UK funeral today costs nearly £4,000, and this is expected to rise to nearly £6,500 by 2025. In addition, many of the services included in these standard pre-planned funerals, such as embalming, are both unnecessary and positively harmful to the environment. Read More…
Many of us will be aware of doulas serving as birth attendant: someone who acts in support of a birthing mother, but a doula– the name comes from the ancient Greek and could be translated as “woman who serves” – can also be of assistance to those leaving the world.
Sometimes called an End of Life Companion or Soul Midwife, a Death Doula sits vigil with dying individuals, providing a continuous and compassionate presence through the final hours. A death doula or soul midwife honours the sacred nature of the dying process as a natural part of the cycle of life and helps individuals achieve a “good death”.
Few of us plan for the moment of our death. For terminally ill patients and their families, this important step can help to ease anxiety as the end draws near.
Too often when a person is actively dying they and the people taking care of them are mostly, if not entirely, alone. The doula meets a need at the most crucial moment. The dying process can take days to unfold, and that can be incredibly difficult and stressful.
Doulas meet with the individual and their families approximately three times beforehand to develop an individualised vigil plan that specifies their wishes for the time of death. It is different for everyone, some people want their hand held while others may want to be left alone. Do they want music, or silence or something read to them? Are there objects they want near, such as a collection of photos? Do they want specific items such as bedding or blankets? These are just a few of the things doulas can take into consideration when writing the plan.
The vigil plan also includes specific relaxation techniques to support both the dying and their caregivers, including guided visualisation and complementary therapies, and rituals to be performed after the individual has passed on. In the planning stages, the doulas also work with the family to help them through the process. Read More…
It is probably fair to say that many of us don’t have a clue what needs to be done if someone dies. After all, there are professionals to sort it all out for us and we’re grateful for the advice and services on offer. In my own experience most Funeral Directors are wonderfully helpful and compassionate.
But are we paying too high a price for our separation from the processes of death and grieving? I don’t just mean financially, although it is true that funeral prices are high and rapidly increasing – I mean also that our modern way of death may literally be costing us the earth.
It is estimated that some 75% of funerals in the UK now involve embalming, which is usually totally unecessary and damaging to the environment, as it uses formaldehyde – a chemical which is both corrosive and carcinogenic.
In the USA, a traditional ten-acre cemetery holds enough embalming fluid to fill a small swimming pool, according to the Smithsonian magazine.* American coffins are often made of metal, sometimes lead-lined and lacquered too, all of which adds both to the cost financially and to the planet.
So should we all go for cremation? In the UK most modern crematoria are now able to remove some toxins before they enter the environment (for example mercury in tooth fillings). Other emissions – not all removed – include carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride and sulphur dioxoide. Even scattering the ashes gives nothing back to the earth, as they are sterile. Read More…