Thursday, 13 December 2018

Podcast episode up: the question of embalming

This week's episode on The Death Dialogues Project Podcast shares a snapshot of what choosing to not embalm looked like by hearing a personal account.

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And here is a link to a trailer for the movie Zen and the Art of Dying referred to in this podcast episode.

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Huge gratitude for your interest in The Death Dialogues Project. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2018


photo by author
By Marlita Qadeer-Salvador who writes:
Writing the document helped me cope and get through the anniversary of her passing this year.  I am so thankful that I went through old notes and wrote because of your page. Happily surprised that you want to publish it. I hope it helps someone else, to not feel crazy or so alone.
November 10, 2014

The day was gloomy and overcast. 

The nurse told me to come, to hurry. I raced and weaved in and out of traffic. 

Trying to get there sooner, to hurry. 

Three exits away, I looked up at the sky. 

The clouds were moving fast and I saw a line of sunshine break through. 

The light beaming through the darkness was so beautiful and majestic. I thought of how it looked like a guide, a pathway opening up straight into Heaven.

I started crying and began to hit the steering wheel. “Please God, please, please, please not yet!” I was screaming and begging and pleading for more time.

We turned off the respirator the next day, but I knew then and still believe that the opening in the sky I saw, was when she left. 

It was too early in the season, for the bitter cold and first snow. 

But so many people came to the wake, despite the weather, and it was like a party-laughing, singing, dancing. The parking lot was so full, people parked on grass. 

She would have liked that.

November 2015

Can’t sleep and I cry all the time. 

I feel so guilty and regretful. I feel lost and there is no one who can reach or comfort me. 

Days fly by and I am not here, there, anywhere. 

Her stone is finally placed and I bring yellow roses, her favorite, for every visit.

I look up at the sky. 

I try to see anything significant in the clouds. 

I have no dreams of her. I am anxious for a sign. 

When I realize that my four year old is watching me cry. 

I say its just I miss my mom but love never ends and Lola is with the stars, moon, sun, and in the sky. 

We can still talk to her whenever we want...

My mother was faithful and devout. Her life and misery was “God’s will” and the suffering earned her place in Heaven. 

And even to the fucking end, my mother didn’t want to be late and fell on her way into church. 

She died from a fall on the church’s steps. A catholic church with steep, marble steps and no god damned railings!

I will not be a fool and I won’t believe or adapt for faith in a higher power anymore. 

And I want to be an atheist but I don’t believe in nothing after death, either. 

I can only get through the hardest minutes and moments by believing that love never ends and we will see our loved ones again

My mom’s youngest brother, passes a day after the first anniversary of her death.

November 11, 2016

When waves of grief come, they come hard. 

My birthday,thinking of her calls first thing in the morning and singing. 

Her birthday and Mother’s day. 

Her death anniversary and then Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Still can’t sleep and I have moved to the couch in the office. 

I just want to be alone.

The older woman’s arm I held onto yesterday while crossing the street, the women who struggle getting off the bus or leave the restaurant limping because it hurts to walk–I reach out to them, give them my arm for help, but really because I need to hold onto them more. 

It is the only way it feels like my mom is still here with me.

I am not going to hope anymore for a sign. 

Life goes on. 

People die all the time. 

I feel so stupid for still hurting this much.

And still, there are days I wonder why I bother.

Why go on. 

My mom’s sister passes four months later.

November 11, 2017

The heartache doesn’t come around as much. And that makes me feel bad.

My friend’s are losing their parents and I listen, sit with them, help them to not feel not so crazy or alone with everything that comes with such a hard loss. 

I want this. 

I feel capable because I am experienced.

I never want the beginning of loss, but I have to admit, I miss that time too. There was a freedom in crying and I was more in the moment.

I still have nights when I drink too much and stay up. 

But now– I search for someone to talk to. 

I reach out for company, for help, some contact and connection. 

Have to figure out how to be brave and do it sober, in the day time. 

November 11, 2018

Four years ago today. 

I don’t know what this day or year will bring. 

I’m going to be different and share flashes of four years grieving. 

I want to memorialize my mom and I want to honor my own complicated feelings. 

Our relationship was difficult and that's probably why it's been hard to get through. 

Or maybe this is what happens when you lose a parent.

I just write and I know it’s my way, to reach out. 

I hope my struggles and confessions can help someone feel less alone or less crazy. 

I hope this helps someone else write and reach out too.

Friday, 30 November 2018

ABOUT VSED: Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking

By Katie Ortlip, LCSW 
Co-author of Living With Dying: A Complete Guide for Caregivers

At this moment, six (USA)states have “Death With Dignity” laws that allow patients who are close to dying to take medication to end their lives. 

As a 26-year hospice social worker, I have had the privilege to attend a number of those deaths. 

But even in my state of Oregon, that option is not always available or some people don’t feel comfortable with it, and so some patients make the decision to hasten their death by not eating or drinking. 

Usually people do this when they feel that their body is starting to fail, their quality of life is not acceptable to them anymore, and they are just done. 

Not eating or drinking hastens the dying process by shutting down the kidneys. 

Stopping eating isn’t that difficult because most people at this stage in their illness don’t feel that hungry. 

It’s the thirst that can be the most uncomfortable. People can suck on ice chips and moisten their mouth with sips of water but they have to realize that if they want to go quickly, they should drink as little water as possible. 

And, of course, medication for pain, anxiety and other symptoms can be given and can help make the process easier.

The process generally takes from ten days to two weeks for a person to die once they stop eating and drinking depending on how hydrated the person is. 

The first few days are the most difficult, again because of the thirst and maybe some hunger pangs. 

The closer one is to a natural death, the easier VSED is, as the patient most likely already stopped eating and is partially dehydrated. 

After the first 3 days or so, the person gets sleepier and the process should get easier, as the kidneys start to shut down, and a gentle euphoria can occur.

I had a patient last year who was at the end stage of his esophageal cancer and there was a chance that the cancer would cause extreme bleeding and pain in his throat as it progressed.  

He was beginning to dread getting up in the morning and had nothing to look forward to but worsening symptoms. 

Rather than wait for the tumor to get bigger and make things awful for him, he said, “I am ready to go and I want to know how to make it happen sooner.” 

After a discussion with him and his family, who gave him their blessings, he decided to proceed with VSED.

He stopped eating and drinking, took regular doses of pain and anxiety medication to be more comfortable, and to help him sleep. We provided them with swabs and mouth moisturizers, and instructed them on good mouth care. 

I had told him and his wife that sometimes, as the kidneys start to shut down, people feel a mild euphoria. On my last visit his wife reported, “He’s doing pretty well, but he’s waiting for the euphoria.” 

She gave him his medication and we chatted a while. When I said good-bye, I bent to give him a kiss and he smiled. 

I asked, “Are you feeling euphoric?” And he nodded dreamily and answered, “Yes.” 

He died peacefully a few days later.

Katie Ortlip, LCSW, former RN, is a Hospice Expert on SHARECARE, Dr. Ahmet Oz’s online health and wellness platform. Katie is co-author of Spiritual Tools for the Dying, a booklet distributed by Asante Health Care of Oregon to all patients on hospice. She received her nursing degree in 1982 and spent three years working in neonatology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City and Mary Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire. Katie earned a BS in Psychology and Masters of Social Work at SUNY-Albany. She has worked as a social worker for Asante Hospice for the past twenty-five years.

Find more about their book and mission of she and her partner Jahanna Beecham HERE

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Review of The Death Dialogues Project Debut

We'd like to share a link to a review of the project's debut which is a beautiful summary. You can find that HERE.

If you find and follow our FaceBook page HERE and stay abreast of what we have coming up and interesting articles and news surrounding death.

On Instagram we are HERE. There, in the profile, you can find links to the other resources.

And we now have a podcast that is available on Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcast and all your favourite platforms. There you can follow our continuing conversations surrounding death between our live events. 

We felt the amazing support of so much lovely feedback. That is so very helpful at this early stage of the project as well as following us on the above social media.

Thanks so much. 

And we'd love for your to share your own story here. Send submissions of 500-700 words to

Blessed Be.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018


By Jane Edberg copyright 2018

I did not expect myself to bury my face into the ashes of my dead son, but I did. I needed to know he was not there. I needed to see if I could feel him in those grains, if they had energy, meaning, but they were silent, as grief is silent, relentlessly so.
- excerpt from “The Fine Art of Grieving”, a memoir in progress by Jane Edberg

The Fine Art of Grieving is a synthesis of photography and prose related to the tragic loss of my son Nanda, who died at the age of nineteen in 1998. 

My illustrated memoir vividly describes how my creative process emerged and reveals how I connected to my grief. 

I leaned in, excavated, and played with the details. I imagined, and created, compelled to explore and process my grief with a wild mind, like an animal mother who smells, tastes, touches, and repositions her lifeless offspring.  

The train tracks where my son died, his ashes, his belongings, our photographs, my hair, tears, flowers, the places we shared, all became my art materials. 

My camera served as a tool for documentation, and self-observation. 

I used creativity to connect to and express my grief, to find meaning in loss, and make art as a reminder.

Over a period of nineteen years I started writing about my loss, but mostly, I did what I do best: be the photographer, set up the camera and start the process of self-observation. Since I had been writing to survey my new life for insights, it seemed natural to illustrate with photographs what words could not say and vice versa. 

In the garden where the fava beans had dried and hardened to yellow stalks I sat before the camera shrouded in Nanda's red blanket. 

I was as hollow as those stalks. 

Brittle and spent. 

There, I caught the grief in all its agony.

Alive bent against the dead. 

In one of my images, the wind lifted Nanda’s blanket into the shape of my son’s body. His red blanket was the catalyst, vehicle, and anchor that allowed me to stay connected to conscious grieving.

I did not have boundaries to my expression when I found myself head high in mustard flowers trying to rediscover the boy who loved to wander those fields in spring. 

I let myself float down the rivers he swam in and I pressed myself into his belongings. 

His ashes.

I knew that if I headed face on into what I feared most, that he was really gone, I might be able to create a new relationship with him based on the fine art of grieving. 

It is my hope that the book that emerges from my own process will help others with their loss. 

The Fine Art of Grieving” is not a ‘how to survive loss’ book, it is an excavation of the meaning that I gleaned from the darkness of deep loss; a mindful process that brought to me the light of understanding, and spiritual awareness. 

My book faces death directly, it’s a not-so-pretty look at bereavement. 

It breaks the model and stretches (challenges) the boundaries of traditional expectations about the grief process. 

My creative process has informed me about death, loss, and put me in touch with my new relationship to Nanda, to who I was, who we were, and who I am now.


Born in Egham, England (in 1956) photographic artist Jane Edberg is recently retired Professor of Art and Digital Media at Gavilan College in Gilroy, California.  She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performance Art, Photography and Painting in 1987, and her Masters of Fine Arts in Photography and Performance Art in 1989 from the University of California at Davis. She spent her early years in Canada, has lived in England and Italy, but spent most of her life in the United States. Jane currently lives on the California coast of Monterey Bay. 

Jane has been fascinated with photography since she was five years old. Her grandmother gave her a Kodak Instamatic when she was eight, and her father gave her his two and a quarter medium format camera when she was fourteen. Jane has been setting herself as subject before her camera since those early times.

She now uses both analog and digital cameras to produce artworks combining images with text. Jane’s main media is photography combined with writing, but she often incorporates painting, sculpting and mixed media into her artwork. Jane has also produced videos, films, composed music, choreographed dance performances, danced and directed major art performance venues. She’s shown in galleries worldwide for over thirty years. 

Find her here:

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Why: The Death Dialogues Project

Death has followed me in my work.

Initially, 38 years ago, working as a nurses aide and then a nurse, my heart was ripped out when someone was nearing end of life and they were alone.

Even if the person was not on my care list, taking the time I could to sit by their bedside seemed vitally important. 

A common reminder to my coworkers no one should have to be alone at the end of their life frequently fell on deaf ears in the rush-rush-rush of our shift work. 

Along with that deep knowing came a sentiment of wanting to hear people's stories and thoughts and feelings in their final chapters of life.

One could argue I didn't make the best nurse because of my time management, but the validation was there for me to continue forward with my schooling to become a therapist so it was "okay" to take that time and listen.

My work in the psychiatric arena involved different types of death conversations, interacting with hundreds of very suicidal individuals in a partial hospitalisation program I was part of, inpatient psychiatry, community case coordination and in private therapy. 

Of course I worked with many grieving individuals during therapy. I was there in the aftermath of deaths and suicides when I worked within the school system. 

Eventually, the opportunity to work with people dealing with end of life heart disease brought back those pointed conversations and opportunities to support-- either in a clinic setting or the inpatient hospice floor of a hospital.

It was during that time that my work with Dignity Therapy took hold and that opportunity had me visiting hospices in Cape Town, South Africa and eventually interacting with the hospice here in Whangarei, New Zealand and supervising their biographers.

Yes, death followed me in my career and that is but a brief outline.

Nothing quite prepares you for walking your own people home. So many historical layers lie beneath and the love and connection is of a different type.

Being in New Zealand and seeing how,  folk in New Zealand, especially the Maori, honour death in a deeply personal and different way than was the norm in the USA informed and empowered me about different ways to walk with death.

Actually, the approach of death doula-ing our own loved ones at home, taking care of their bodies, and leaving their body at home for vigil was what we'd been raised hearing about from my mother– how it was done when she was a child. 

It felt natural to take that approach with her and my brother.

Ours is a generation that worked to take back control of birthing and is now revisiting that energy by working to take back control of dying.

The movement is well and truly in place with Death Doula's being a career path to consider, home celebrants, green burials and the good work of the hospice movement spawning other alternatives such as contemplative dying centres. 

Pathways surrounding death are changing.

We need to talk about it.

Grief is real and hard and raw and many times traumatic in a way that repeats on you for a lifetime. 

We need to talk about it. 

Having taught, having learned from texts and lectures and conferences ad nauseam, I'm tired of listening to a talking head tell me how things work-- especially in the realm of something as extremely personal as death and grief.

People's personal stories of their experiences are what inform us best. 

Thus, the birth of The Death Dialogues Project.

Through interviews of people who have gladly put their hands up to talk about their experience, we create a verbatim document that will become a piece of verbatim theatre in the end.

In between, if people are interested, we may share bigger chunks of the stories than will be able to end up in the final play which is what we are doing for the project's debut on 25th of November. 

Having acted in The Laramie Project and directed and acted in The Vagina Monologues, arguably the two most well known pieces of verbatim theatre-- I've seen, up close, the power of this medium.

Join us in Whangarei, New Zealand for the debut of this project. More information HERE.