Hi I'm Susi Ezzy, one of the Social Workers employed by the Hobart District Nurses for the hospice@HOME project, Tasmania. I work in this role for 2 ½ days each week and as such am very privileged to meet with patients with a palliative diagnosis and their families in their homes. Here we converse about life, death, what brings meaning, delight and pain.
As such, I was particularly interested to hear of a Death Café being held by Calvary Care in Hobart, Tasmania as one of their Dying to Know day events.
Thus it was I found myself on a Saturday afternoon seated in one of a number of small groups, enjoying coffee, cake and conversation about aspects of death and dying. The encouragement to talk about what is often a taboo topic, or one to be ‘tiptoed around’ was refreshing with our only admonition to listen and respect others’ stories and perspectives.
Some of our conversation was interpreted and expressed by a professional cartoonist who floated from group to group and skilfully scribbled on whiteboards around the room – the first ever of such included in a death café, I believe.
One pertinent comment discussed our group was the recognition that while we spend months (or even years) preparing for a marriage, a birth, for holidays and other special events, death (perhaps our most significant of journeys) often catches us unawares and funeral arrangements are speedily assembled in three days at a time when we are often least able to clearly think and plan.
Ways of raising death conversations and our “death wishes” with adult children was also discussed – with the experience of some of our participants telling of family members showing discomfort with such a topic. Completing Advance Care Directive documentation and providing copies to family members was seen as one way to encourage these conversations.
This highlighted a desire from all in our group that the topic of dying (an event so inevitable to us all) be made more accessible and acceptable within our wider communities. Comparisons were made between our modern nuclear society where death is sanitised and ‘dealt with’ as ‘professionally’ as possible to that of our forebears and other more community oriented societies. We recognised a sense of loss in our modern processes where dying is increasingly relegated to institutions and after death bodies are whisked away to be professionally ‘prepared’ for the funeral as quickly as possible and wondered whether a more communal and personal approach may enable a greater sense of completion for those who are grieving.
Our time of sharing and conversation brought both laughter and tears and one consequence of my Death Café experience is the determination of a couple of friends and myself to hold our own ‘death dinner’ in the near future. Here we plan to complete our Advance Care Directives and discuss our thoughts, hopes and wishes for our personal, inevitable death journey. For us this will be accompanied by food and wine, and in a similar vein to Jenny Joseph who many years ago stated in her famous poem ‘when I am an older person I will wear purple…’ we wish to challenge the trend to silence and speaking in whispers about such matters. Perhaps we will be proudly asserting that now that we are older women we have found freedom in speaking out and planning our greatest journey of all.
Susi Ezzy – The District Nurses, hospice@HOME
Dying To Know Day is August 8th.
Go to www.dyingtoknowday.org for more details.
Read the big list of death literacy builders HERE.