Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘death’

Metamorphosis v2

For source of image see link

Read Full Post »

 

Just another few days to go before the next meeting of the Death Cafe on 15 March from 6-8 pm, so am re-posting this account of the last meeting I attended in February. If you are close by it would be good to see you there.

As I walked towards the counter for my coffee I noticed three or four people talking to the lady who facilitates the Death Cafe. That looked promising. She passed me on her way to the room as I reached the counter and we exchanged greetings.

After a few minutes waiting for my coffee to be created, I began to have my doubts. They seemed to be quite happy standing at the counter chatting like a group if friends in a pub. I must have been mistaken, I thought.

I took my coffee and balanced it carefully back to the meeting room.

My pessimism was unjustified. They must have just been waiting for someone’s brew to finish. All four people joined us at the table after a short passage of time.

Brilliant!

Unlike last time there was no lack of participants for the Death Cafe at the Courtyard Theatre in Hereford this month. In fact, I think this time was a record compared with all my other experiences: we had ten people round the table, including four complete new comers, for our usual exhilarating exploration of the meaning of life under the shadow of death.

Some of the questions we dealt with this time were hardly existential. If you are not using an undertaker what do you do with the body in-between the post mortem/moment of death and the burial/cremation? Covering it with bags of frozen peas did not seem an ideal solution but none of us could come up with a better one. It was suggested that Soul Midwives could probably advise on better methods.

Another was, can you bury two bodies in one small plot, including your back garden? At least one person felt you could, but it was pointed out that this might reduce the value of the property somewhat in the event of its eventual sale.

I also could not resist sharing how inspiring I had found the recent funeral service I attended which had been organised entirely by the family and friends of the deceased (see link for full account). They had not relied on anyone else for input: there was no priest, no undertaker, no hearse. Instead, the coffin was carried to the graveside in a brightly coloured camper van, a vehicle perfectly suited to the tastes of the occupant.

At other points we criss-crossed over more predictable territory: near death experiences, Psi (I’ll be coming back to those issues in the next week or so), ghosts, exorcism, healing services to quieten the dead, and we debated whether it was possible to be sure whether there was an afterlife or there wasn’t (more of that too soon).

We all noted that Dying Matters Awareness week will run from 8-14 May, and we will be keeping our eyes open for possible events locally.

And I’ll end on my usual challenge. Death Cafes are held in many places. Maybe there’s one near you. Do you dare to give it a go?

Read Full Post »

Given my involvement in the local Death Cafe my interest in this piece from the Bahá’í Teachings website should come as no surprise. Justin Baldoni almost makes death seem positively exciting! Click link to  go to the original post.

Actor and My Last Days creator Justin Baldoni explains why he believes he was born to play a part in helping people transition from this world to the next. What if birth and death are actually the same? Justin asks that important question—maybe the most important question imaginable. He describes the birth of his daughter, passing through a dark tunnel into the light, and realizes he will one day greet her joyously once more, when she passes from this world to the next. He wonders whether the prophets of God—Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Baha’u’llah—described death as a beautiful, spiritual transition because they knew where we’re all going. Then, Justin asks one more question: What are you spending your time developing?

Read Full Post »

Grave & Courtyard v2

As I walked towards the counter for my coffee I noticed three or four people talking to the lady who facilitates the Death Cafe. That looked promising. She passed me on her way to the room as I reached the counter and we exchanged greetings.

After a few minutes waiting for my coffee to be created, I began to have my doubts. They seemed to be quite happy standing at the counter chatting like a group if friends in a pub. I must have been mistaken, I thought.

I took my coffee and balanced it carefully back to the meeting room.

My pessimism was unjustified. They must have just been waiting for someone’s brew to finish. All four people joined us at the table after a short passage of time.

Brilliant!

Unlike last time there was no lack of participants for the Death Cafe at the Courtyard Theatre in Hereford this month. In fact, I think this time was a record compared with all my other experiences: we had ten people round the table, including four complete new comers, for our usual exhilarating exploration of the meaning of life under the shadow of death.

Some of the questions we dealt with this time were hardly existential. If you are not using an undertaker what do you do with the body in-between the post mortem/moment of death and the burial/cremation? Covering it with bags of frozen peas did not seem an ideal solution but none of us could come up with a better one. It was suggested that Soul Midwives could probably advise on better methods.

Another was, can you bury two bodies in one small plot, including your back garden? At least one person felt you could, but it was pointed out that this might reduce the value of the property somewhat in the event of its eventual sale.

I also could not resist sharing how inspiring I had found the recent funeral service I attended which had been organised entirely by the family and friends of the deceased (see link for full account). They had not relied on anyone else for input: there was no priest, no undertaker, no hearse. Instead, the coffin was carried to the graveside in a brightly coloured camper van, a vehicle perfectly suited to the tastes of the occupant.

At other points we criss-crossed over more predictable territory: near death experiences, Psi (I’ll be coming back to those issues in the next week or so), ghosts, exorcism, healing services to quieten the dead, and we debated whether it was possible to be sure whether there was an afterlife or there wasn’t (more of that too soon).

We all noted that Dying Matters Awareness week will run from 8-14 May, and we will be keeping our eyes open for possible events locally.

And I’ll end on my usual challenge. Death Cafes are held in many places. Maybe there’s one near you. Do you dare to give it a go?

Read Full Post »

As the strains of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here echoed off the stone walls of the remote village church packed to the porch and beyond with friends and well-wishers, I realised for certain I was right in the middle of a heart-expanding experience. I’d been quite anxious about coming, not because I didn’t want to share in this expression of caring for Martin and his family, but because I had a part to play in it before a gathering of more than 150 people, most of whom I’ve never met before.

When the song ceased I would have to read a passage from the Bahá’í writings about the soul, and I wasn’t sure I could do it without cracking up. Given that I had only really begun to get to know Martin in the last couple of years or so, I definitely didn’t want to do that when, compared with his wife, six children and all his closest friends, I had such a light grief to carry.

The battle throughout the church to stifle sobs and subdue sniffles had been almost completely lost after his son had ascended the pulpit to share his memories of his father. He had flown back from Beijing just a few days before. Somehow he managed to describe to us his last contact with his dad – a text exchange just a few days before Martin died. Cass was due to go on stage with his group to perform in a gig in Beijing. Martin was planning to see someone else perform near Hereford, but said the concert he really wanted to be at was the one Cass was in. Martin’s last words were that he would talk to him soon. Cass’s composure cracked for a moment and he couldn’t hold back his sobs.

He was not the only one and he took me with him as well for a moment.

Then Wish You Were Here, one of my favourite Pink Floyd tracks, followed hard on his heels. I struggled to keep calm.

I found myself thinking about a story his wife, Ali, had told me earlier of how she was checking his mobile some time after his death and found a lot of text messages from the same number asking Martin to get in touch. Eventually, because the messages kept coming she rang back. It was a woman who was texting Martin because he had fixed her roof one time. She was going on holiday and needed her house redecorating. She wanted to give the work to Martin so that he could be indoors for three weeks while she was away, safe from the exposure of the roofs he usually worked on, out of the winter cold and wet. She clearly wanted to give him something back for his kindness to her in the past.

I remembered the poem, Three Coats, written by a friend, which his daughter had shared almost at the beginning of the service. At first she had found it hard to get calm enough to speak. Somehow she did. Her courage was amazing.

From memory, the poem was triggered by Martin explaining to the writer why he kept three coats in his van. The poem puts it far better but it was because, when the weather was bad, he’d put the first coat on and work until it was soaked through. Then, he’d come down from the roof and change into the next coat and work on that until he was soaked to the skin. At this point again he’d come down to the van and get the last coat. When that too was wet through, he would go home to his family, the reason why he worked in this way to keep them warm and safe.

That didn’t help the campaign to keep calm. I focused on my breathing instead.

As soon as the music stopped I had to stand up and read.

The whole physical creation is perishable. These material bodies are composed of atoms; when these atoms begin to separate decomposition sets in, then comes what we call death. This composition of atoms, which constitutes the body or mortal element of any 91 created being, is temporary. When the power of attraction, which holds these atoms together, is withdrawn, the body, as such, ceases to exist.

With the soul it is different. The soul is not a combination of elements, it is not composed of many atoms, it is of one indivisible substance and therefore eternal. It is entirely out of the order of the physical creation; it is immortal!

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks – page 90)

Only when I said ‘With the soul it is different’ did I have a catch in my voice. I picked myself up after that, thank goodness.

The service continued in the same way at the same pace, giving all the family members who wished, the opportunity to share their thoughts and memories. Friends also shared their stories.

His wife, showing the same courage as her children, read the words of Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet, one of Martin’s favourite books:

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

What was so clear as the service moved towards its conclusion with the Bahá’í Prayer for the Departed was how strongly everyone in that church felt involved in the process. The family’s pain and courage touched us all. The service lasted slightly more than two hours. It had all been designed by the family and close friends. There were no priests involved. There was not even an undertaker. You don’t have to have one. There was no sense of hurry. Everyone who spoke, spoke at their own speed and in their own way. One man even sang a song.

And finally we followed his coffin in the colourful camper van to the burial plot in a green space near a woodland area, where it was lowered into the ground, where prayers were said, where flowers and cypress twigs were thrown into the grave, and where Ali could finally say her last farewell as she knelt to throw her rose onto the coffin.

It was a beautiful moving and authentic experience, which I wouldn’t have missed for the world.  It was the family’s bravery, love and unity that moved me so much.

For days afterwards I couldn’t get another song out of my head, though it was not one they played at the service but it seems filled with exactly the same spirit.

Read Full Post »

 

feb-17-death-cafeJust another week to go before the next meeting of the Death Cafe on 15 February from 6-8 pm, so just re-posting this account of the last meeting I attended in January. If you are close by it would be good to see you there.

It took longer than usual to get my coffee at the Courtyard prior to the Death Cafe meeting last Wednesday. There were far more people at the counter than usual, most of them in my age group. The thought crossed my mind that we might be going to get a record attendance at the meeting, though there was no one in the queue I recognised.

I finally got my cappuccino just in time to make it across to the meeting room by a touch after six o’clock. As I approached I could see someone struggling with the wedge to make the door stay open. The room was dark. This did not bode well.

Holding my coffee perilously in my hand I unsuccessfully attempted to help with the wedge. ‘Better sit down before I drop this on the carpet,’ I thought. I switched the light on as I passed.

As I was arranging my coat on the back of the chair someone else came in before promptly disappearing again for a coffee.

By the time I’d sat down and made myself comfortable there were four of us in the room – the smallest number of people so far at any meeting I had attended. Even so, yet again I was energised by the range of issues we dealt with, some of them in considerable depth.

Maybe I was primed to enjoy this meeting whatever the numbers or the topics. I’d had about a fortnight of immersion in the tragic and death-dominated lives of the Brontës. Also within the last week I’ve had news of the deaths of two people I knew quite well – both much younger than me. Memento mori has been the flavour of the year so far.

This time the ground we covered included whether we preferred burial to cremation, whether we would want to be resuscitated or not, what did the idea of our own end make us think about, whether there is an after life or not and did we mind, did it matter what kind of funeral takes place after we have died, where have the supportive communities of old disappeared to, should we feel responsible in some way for creating the conditions that have made possible so-called ISIS and its killings, and how did we feel about the fact that our society is still letting so many people die.

Despite what they sound like, such topics don’t lead to one-foot-in-the-grave-type discussions. Unexpected positives often emerge.

The community question, for example, flagged up the existence of a promising initiative in Sandwell — Compassionate Community:

A Compassionate Community is a community that provides support to someone who is dying. The community could be family, neighbours, local organisations, a faith group, local businesses or people living in a particular area. It could be some or all of these.

People in a Compassionate Community help care for a dying person through small acts of compassion, supporting the dying person during their end of life, often enabling them to die well and, if possible, at home.

Palliative care professionals, such as doctors and care workers, are also a vital part of a Compassionate Community. However, to provide the best possible end of life care to someone they need extra support from the patient’s community, particularly if the patient wishes to die at home.

By working and pulling together a Compassionate Community can help a dying person, and their family and friends, get the support and care they need, helping them to deal with dying and death and the subsequent bereavement and loss of those left behind.

There are plans to test out a pilot project in Hereford apparently.

Even the worst sounding topics can trigger potentially life-enhancing deliberations.

Pondering on what our deaths made us think about, we delved into the problem of how do we decide what are the most important things to spend our time on. Does it have to be something useful? Can’t it just be something joyous and enriching like a trip to the opera? Would watching a murder mystery on television count as worthwhile enough? What about a walk in the country? We all probably felt that the arts and a connection with nature were worthwhile in themselves and that doing things that benefited others definitely qualified as a good use of our last days. Interestingly, in the context of our discussion at that point, no one mentioned using our time to come to terms with death even though that’s what we all have said is a crucially important task in life as a whole. Perhaps we all thought it too obvious to mention!

As usual the time flew by and the meeting was almost over. We found ourselves wondering at the end how we could attract more people to these meetings. I’m still pondering that one.

Death Cafes are held in many places. Maybe there’s one near you. Do you dare to give it a go?

Read Full Post »

2950

Given my preoccupation with trauma and creativity, amongst other cheerful issues, it will come as no surprise to hear that I am almost certain to buy this book on death and poets. As far as I can tell from the Guardian review its combination of wit and wisdom will be hard for me to resist. Below is a short extract: for the full article see link.

Not the lives of poets, which Dr Johnson wrote about, but their deaths – whether early or late, in bed or in battle, accidental or self-inflicted. It’s a great idea for a book but one that could easily descend into ghoulish sensationalism or slick postmortem psychologising. It helps that the authors are poets themselves, whose agenda isn’t to rubberneck or lecture but to interrogate the Romantic myth “that great poems come at a heavy – ultimately fatal – price”.

If their previous collaboration, Edgelands, in 2011, was a pilgrimage to neglected corners of the English landscape, this one sends them further afield, to wherever it was (Boston, Vienna or Hull) that a poet’s last hours were spent. The hope is that by being there they can learn something – about the life and work, and how the manner of a poet’s death can affect, for better or worse, an understanding of his or her poems.

Henry Wallis’s portrait of the death of Chatterton – splayed body, abandoned drafts, arsenic phial – glamorised the image of the poet as sacrificial victim. Chatterton was just 17. The consumptive Keats (“that drop of blood is my death-warrant”) lasted only eight years longer. As other early casualties followed (Shelley, Byron, Rimbaud, Verlaine), the legend of the poète maudit took hold. Dylan Thomas, dying at 39 in New York after claiming to have drunk “18 straight whiskies”, gave it new vigour. According to his widow Caitlin, his “ridiculous” investment in the idea of the doomed poet was a self-betrayal – what he really liked was warm slippers, pickled onions and checking the cricket scores.

In the 1960s, the myth took an even darker turn, with the idea that personal disaster is necessary for great writing, and that – as John Berryman put it – poets who experience every worst possible ordeal short of suicide are “extremely lucky”’. For most, including Berryman himself, the luck soon ran out: he, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton all killed themselves. (Randall Jarrell, who walked out in front of a car on a dark road, almost certainly did too.) The poet and critic Al Alvarez articulated the “extremist” thesis in his study The Savage God and was later teased for it by James Fenton (“He tells you, in the sombrest notes, / If poets want to get their oats / The first step is to slit their throats”). In reality, factors unrelated to poetry were often involved: drugs, alcohol, marital breakdown and depression, and in the cases of Plath and Berryman the precedent of a self-destructive father. But the myth lost none of its allure: Edgelife or Ledgelife meant pushing oneself to the limit and beyond in the service of art. Suicidal painters added to the thrill, as did rock stars then and since.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »