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.
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