Sunday, October 28, 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.

Monday, October 22, 2018

a hello to & from heaven-- marking one year


Today marks one year since my sweet mother "crossed over" (her words).

Her life and death were an example of the magic that can unfold when people are able to have open conversations about death.

Really, since my father's death in 1983, the flood gates opened and throughout the years we speculated about death, as she witnessed many of her friends and family go before her.

Mom lived with me and my family in New Zealand for the last two years of her life which was a miracle in itself since a traveller she was not.

We frequently talked about whomever going first giving the other one signs from the beyond. As she was dying I reminded her of this to which she replied weakly, "If I can figure out how to . . ."

And that she did. I'll share one example in honour of her anniversary of going to wherever and whomever caused that luscious smile to come over her face at her last breath. (and then she had more lovely colour to her face in death than she had in life-- like the Divine painted on the canvas of her)

This picture is from not long after she died when a couple of friends came out for a walk.

One of the friends sent me this photo after she left with the simple question, "Do you see anything here?" 

And there. Right on the left side I  immediately saw my mother, young, looking away. 

Early in the 24 hour labour when she announced her dying we spoke of a variety of possibilities that might happen. Would her family and my recently deceased brother come to see her home as she had witnessed with loved ones? 

Mentioning to her that some people with near death experiences have said that you get to pick the age you want to be when you "cross over," I asked her, "Mom, what age do you think you'd like to be?" Exhaustion setting in she wearily replied, "Oh, I don't know, I guess this age." 

It was clearly taking too much energy to ponder while she was in the labour of dying and our conversation about such things waned as we got down to the business of her being as comfortable and comforted as possible.

I'm not sure you will see her young self in this photo. I've shared these younger photos of her so you can imagine her thick curls and high cheek bones.

Make no mistake that is my mother in those clouds. 

And I reckon it was her way of telling me what age she settled on.

This experience is also a reminder to keep our head up and eyes open. 

I'm so grateful my friend caught this image, but it beckons one to wonder how many little hellos we miss along the way when we are caught up in the mundane.

(you can read the story of her beautiful "crossing over" HERE : scroll down)

Mind you, beautiful is still hard. 

It was our life's pleasure for her to be with us for her life's final chapter. 

I love you and miss you Mama! 

(((I feel your peace)))