Thanks to Trypheyna for taking the big deathie questions for Dying To Know Day.
Trypheyna is also hosting a D2KDay event online. You can participate here.
What is your work and why do you do it?
My work involves bringing Creativity and Love to all that is involved with End of Life. The reason that I do this is because ‘The End of Life Matters’
What is your most memorable experience of this work?
My most memorable experience of this work culminated in the creation of my book’ The Intimacy of Death and Dying’, which shares 23 different stories. From old age and expected death through to pre-birth and unexpected death, it covers a range of scenarios which give people gentle guidance to help them travel through the journey of death and dying. The book exists because of my sister-in-law Trish, who asked me to help support her on her end of life journey after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer.
The experience was so profoundly powerful for me, while also being deeply bitter sweet. After months of care we managed to create magic, fulfilling her dying wish, by organizing her wedding 36 hours before she died. Having been blessed by Trish’s request that I travel the journey with her I found myself wanting to support others to understand the power of making friends with death rather than running away from the one thing we will all do.
Do you have any tips on how someone could develop their personal relationship with their mortality/death/dying?
Make sure to have a copy of ‘The Intimacy of Death and Dying’ in your book collection. So many people have shared their valuable first hand experiences and insights in it, that it is a precious resource to have at hand for when you need it, which somehow always seems to come out of the blue, when we least expect it. This is the book I went searching for to help me on my journey, which I could not find. So our palliative care nurse told me I would need to write the book in support of others. Make sure you are prepared and have some idea of what the end of life involves. The more you know the less frightening it becomes.
What are you Dying to Know?
I am ‘Dying to Know’ a world where people spend as much time talking about, and being involved with death, as they do with money, and sex and religion and politics and birth and babies and all the other things that make up Life. For Death is in fact a very real and important part of Life.
If you could re-write/redesign/redevelop an aspect of the Australian way of death what would it be?
I am blessed to work at one of the best places, I have ever come across, which deals with death and dying. Bear Cottage Children’s Hospice. I am Art Therapist there and am consistently in awe at the beautiful way that everyone there works together with love and compassion interacting with everyone involved to make life as beautiful as possible right up until a child dies. And then even after the child has died, so much care and love is put into the creation of special memories and ongoing care for the families. Death is not the end and we need to take as much care after as we do before and during.
If I could rewrite Australia’s way of death I would love to see hospices’ run like family homes just as Bear Cottage is. It is full of fun and laughter, music and good food, colour and creativity. It also has Frankie the family dog, she makes every child welcome and as they say at Bear Cottage ‘Life is for Living’. If people are not able to die at home, which I personally think is a beautiful place to die, then we need to create beautiful warm loving comfortable places where people feel safe in their dying, amongst people who will care for them lovingly.
Cremation, Aquamation, promession, natural burial or….? How do you want your body disposed of after death?
I want my body buried in the ground in the most ecological way with a nut tree planted on top (maybe an almond tree that will provide food). That way people can say “We always knew she was nuts!!”
What’s the best funeral you’ve ever been to, and why?
I was brought up in Ghana West Africa, where they create the best coffins in the world. They are created by craftsmen as sculptural pieces that represent who you were and what you did in your life. So as a cocoa farmer you might be buried in a cocoa pod or as a fisherman in a fish, or even in the outboard engine you powered your boat with. These coffins are magnificent and give a whole different feeling to the idea of end of life. So there have been many best funerals I have been to, including my parents funerals where we decorated their coffins. My father’s had photos of all his close family and flags of importance to his life experiences. We sent my mother off for her ‘last burn out’ in a TR3 sports car which is what she had raced in Ghana. It was such fun to create and we all felt she was having a great laugh along with us all. It helped ease the sadness of no longer having her with us anymore.
Assuming you have one, what will your deathbed scene be like?
Gentle, loving, fun, surrounded by family and above all creative. This is an article I wrote for eHospice called ‘Creativity and Death can be good friends’. I, like the children I talk of in my article, want to express my creative Soul right up until the very end
What songs will be played at your funeral?
My husband’s version of ‘You say it best when you say nothing at all’
Leather and Lace - Face to Face – Stevie Nicks
Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
What is your best advice when people remark “I don’t know what to say”
You don’t have t know what to say. You just have to know how to ‘be yourself’. Be real, be honest, and loving. If that involves saying “I’m so sorry I don’t know what to say” that is perfect. People just need to know you are there for them. There is nothing that is a standard thing to say because this is a unique situation. Your love is the most powerful thing you can share and that may equally be just sitting quietly with someone in a loving way.
Is writing about death and dying morbid? and are you ‘special’/‘weird’/‘scary’ to be doing this work?
I think I really am “nuts” because I don’t find it morbid, weird or scary. In fact I find it refreshingly honest and real. Not one of us is going to get out of here alive and I find it sad that causes so much pain for people. The more work I have done in this area the less scary I find it. It is almost counterintuitive. I am so grateful to be involved in this work and to be with people at a time when they are so open and real. I feel deeply privileged to be able to do this work.
What’s your view on death being taboo?
Death has been taboo for too long now and everything goes in cycles. I sense that we are about to see the whole thing change massively and it will become quite “cool” to talk about and want to understand death, which I think could be nothing but brilliant for people. I believe the human race will evolve massively as soon as we bring Death back into Life.
What do you hope/imagine your legacy might be when you’re gone?
The Legacy I would like to leave is to have been instrumental in creatively bringing Death Back into Life. I believe that people will live much more honest and’ true to themselves’ lives once they accept that they have a use by date and so avoid ever having any of the top 5 Regrets of the dying.
I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
I wish I had let myself be happier
I wish I had the courage to express my feelings