Category: Standard

February 25, 2019 /

” ‘Transpersonal’ refers to an interdisciplinary approach, where the
purpose of assimilating scientific, historical, psychological, and spiritual
concepts is to create a broader, more inclusive knowing.  
Here is a larger context that acknowledges multi-layered levels of
consciousness that can transcend mere personal identity.  
It is an expanding and encompassing view of humankind, which addresses
body, mind, spirit, and the dimensions of human nature.”

Mary Anne Sanders, Nearing Death Awareness, 2007.

I dedicate the last month of the year to reflection and remembrance.  Reflection regarding how well I’ve lived my life during the preceding months, and remembrance of the presence of God in my being (although this is something not just relegated to the 12th month).  Living as I and many others do, as a world within a world, brings many challenges and this year has been no different.

Health and wellbeing hurdles, unexpected twists and turns professionally and privately, personal insights, the letting go of certain worldly attachments (not an easy thing to do), Death Cafe (always a joy), a return to academic study (the promise of new things), and the learning of the art of surrender. At times I felt overwhelmed by that which the behaviour of others revealed to me, always mindful though of my own psychological buffers and ‘blind spots’.  At times, and because of the ever-present maliciousness and unkindness of others, and the burden of crushing responsibilities, I reached out for help and was able to endure the torment and the horror of it all.

I’m particularly reminded of a quote by Carl Jung because it seems to capture the essence of what has been an intense period of emotional, psychological and spiritual growth, “The more veiled becomes the outside world, steadily losing in colour, tone, and passions, the more urgently the inner world calls us” (cited in Jacobi, The Psychology of C. G. Jung. An Introduction with Illustrations, 1962, p. 149).  There were many times when I asked myself, “Surely there’s more to life than this?”  Of course I know there is, but what I realised was that I wasn’t making enough effort to answer that question.

It is difficult to be in the world, but not of it.  To be engaged externally with a busy life and to be of use to others is necessary, however this year has taught me that its just as important to be of use to oneself as it is to others.  The sleep state is pervasive, suffocating, alluring.  At times it is so subtle that we’re hardly even aware of its presence in our lives, until something suddenly jolts us into a momentary state of wakefulness, but then that too passess, and we succumb without even realising it, to sleep.

I’ve been caught up with the groundswell of change regarding attitudes toward death.  This is not necessarily negative because it seems that when we think about our mortality we think about how meaningfully we’ve lived our lives.  Perhaps, as a result, we make changes.  Perhaps we become kinder to others, less judgemental, and less harsh in our behaviour toward them.  Perhaps we ask ourselves, or begin to ponder, those ‘big’ questions; “Why was I born?”, “What am I doing here?”, “What happens when I die?”, or the big one for me, “Surely there’s more to life than this?”.

It has been a year of living and dying for many people in the world.  Some have lived for values or ideals, or for a purpose, while others have died honouring them.  Some have lived with hope, while others have died hopeless, perhaps in despair and anguish. Some have had their lives taken from them, either intentionally by their own hand or that of another, or unintentionally due to accident or an ‘act of God’.  And through it all the universe in all its majesty has been witness; planets and moons have orbited, stars have been born and died, and life has continued unabated in all its wonder.  And ever so slightly, the outside world lost a little of its colour, tone and passions, and ever more increasingly, the inner world called.

February 25, 2019 /

“As it is, we must hold to other things, because Death is coming. 
I love death – not morbidly, but because He explains. 
He shows me the emptiness of Money.
Death and Money are the eternal foes.  Not Death and Life …
Death destroys a man: the idea of Death saves him. 
Behind the coffins and the skeletons that stay the vulgar mind, lies something so immense
that all that is great in us responds to it.”

E.M. Forster, Howards End, 2002.

There is much ado these days about coffins and skeletons, and using death-related insignia for cause and effect in promoting death awareness, which I too occasionally get caught up in, but when I find that happening I bring to mind that one sentence from Forsters text, “Behind the coffins and the skeletons that stay the vulgar mind, lies something so immense that all that is great in us responds to it.”

These are words laden with meaning and complexity, and worth pondering.  What is it that Forster is referring to?  What is that immensity that all that is great in us responds to?  What lays beyond the vulgar mind, which is all too often satisfied with the drossy excitement of life?  The drama of it? The ‘wow’ of it?  The ephemeral shallowness of it?

Eastern teachings tell us that the material world, and we ourselves, are impermanent, and that the only permanence is change.  Yet Eastern teachings also tell us that this can be overcome, that something in us can become permanent, that something in us can transcend this state of affairs.  How do we understand ‘permanence’?  What is ‘permanent’?  And how can we become something other than what and how we know ourselves to be.

Does it have something to do with Forster’s ‘immensity’?  And is there something innately in us, buried deeply within, slumbering perhaps, that is waiting for us to acknowledge its presence?  Could it be that Forster’s immensity calls to us and yearns for us, yet at the same time is denied by us?

And in the solitude of silence the answer comes.

February 25, 2019 /

“Dying is an exquisitely individual process and there is no way to change or fully
understand the experience, one must go through it alone. 
At the same time, it is the most social of all experiences.  It intimately involves and draws
upon the love, thought, feelings and states of those who are to remain on earth,
and it intimately involves  the vast love, affection and shared life and spirituality of the next world.  There is a subtle co-mingling of both worlds, without any sense of competition: only
sense of total sharing  prevails and this sometimes moves one to profound joyful tears, and even, paradoxically, to bitter tears on rare occasions.”

Philip W. Groves, The Process of Transition, The Philip W. Groves Centre, 1999.

As readers of this blog know, my interest in other-worldly non-material phenomena (or that which I term ‘spiritual’ phenomena as opposed to material and ‘worldly’ phenomena), is grounded in life experience and my previously completed Social Work doctoral research; a qualitative study which explored after-death contact between the bereaved and the deceased (Knight, 2011).

In conjunction with completing that research, an online  Midwifing Death (Barbato, 2015) course in 2015 and presently, the influence of my current enrolment in a Masters Social Work qualifying degree, my interest has turned toward other-worldly phenomena that the dying experience in an end-of-life context, vicariously termed ‘deathbed phenomena’. The term deathbed phenomena is adopted from Brayne et al, in that “death may be heralded by deathbed phenomena such as visions that comfort the dying and prepare them spiritually for death” (2006, p. 17).

The end-of-life can be contextualized as a period of transition from one way of life to another, from living life in the flesh, to, depending on one’s spiritual belief-system and/or sociocultural world-view, living life in a transformed state or just ceasing to exist. Depending on the nature of the event of dying and the type of death trajectory, this period can be deeply and profoundly distressing, destabilising and/or psychosocially and psychospiritually transformative for the dying individual, those who care for them, and their family and friends.

Dying, and the potentiality of impending death, can catapult the individual into an existential crisis of meaning, and it is within this often turbulent and frightening context, and frequently “on the threshold of death” (Greyson, 1994, p. 460) that deathbed phenomena such as deathbed visions, dreams and coincidences, deathbed escorts, and nearing death awareness experiences are widely reported (Alvardo, 2006; Barbato et al, 1999; Corliss, 2014; Fenwick & Fenwick, 2008: Greyson, 1994; MacConville & McQuillan, 2010; Stafford Betty, 2006).  Similarly reported is the beneficent impact such experiences have in providing comfort and security for the dying and for dispelling death-fears.

Metaphorically speaking, deathbed phenomena have a lot to say.  It tells us that there are those who have gone before us who continue to love and care for us as we do them.  It tells us that existence doesn’t end, it just changes.  It tells us that something deeply profound is at work which is operating beyond the confines of the empirical universe and the dominant materialistic, and reductionist, scientific paradigm.

The feeling of an experience confirms its reality and none more so than the feelings that accompany other-worldly phenomena such as this.  In the face of at times overwhelming fear, despair and uncertainty, these phenomena engender a sense of calm and peace. According to hospice Social Worker J Scott Janssen, “near-death experiences, deathbed visions, and after-death communication are phenomena that social workers in end-of-life settings say clients and their families encounter.  Knowing how to respond is the challenge” (Janssen, 2015, “Deathbed Phenomena in Hospice Care: The Social Work Response”, 2015).

Alvarado, C. S. (2006). Neglected Near-Death Phenomena. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 24(3), 131-151).

Barbato, M., Blunden, C., Reid, K., Irwin, H. & Rodriguez, P. (1999). Parapsychological phenomena near the time of death.  Journal of Palliative Care, 15(2), 30-37.

Barbato, M. (2015). Midwifing Death Correspondence Course (MDCC), online course, midwifingdeath.com.au/index.html

Brayne, S., Farnham, C., & Fenwick, P. (2006) Deathbed phenomena and their effect on a palliative care team: a pilot study. American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine 23(1):17-24.

Corliss, I. B. (2014). Transitions: Exploring the Frontier, OMEGA, 70(1), 57-65.

Fenwick, P. & Fenwick, E. (2008). The Art of Dying: A Journey to Elsewhere. London, England: Continuum

Greyson, B. (1994). Near-death experiences. In R. Corsini (Ed.), The encyclopaedia of psychology (pp. 460-462). New York, America: Wiley.

Groves, P. W. (1999). The Process of Transition. Balgowlah, Sydney, Australia: The Philip W. Groves Centre.

Janssen, J. S. (2015). Deathbed Phenomena in Hospice Care: The Social Work Response. Social Work Today,15(6), 26.  Retrieved from http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/111715p26.shtml

Knight, M. (2011). Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communiqué (Doctoral thesis, the University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia). Available: http://hdl.handle.net/2123/13764

MacConville, U. & McQuillan, R. (2010).  Capturing the invisible: exploring Deathbed Experiences in Irish Palliative Care. The Irish Times: Going into the light. Available from: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/going-into-the-light-1.579411

Stafford Betty, L.  (2006). Are they hallucinations or are they real?  The spirituality of deathbed and near-death visions, OMEGA, 53(1-2), 37-49.

February 25, 2019 /

“What is needed here is preparatio mortis: preparation for death, a spiritual education in coming to terms with our mortality.  This is a task not for the last weeks of life – It is often too late by then …”

Angela Tilby, (2011). BBC Radio 4, Thought for the Day, 17 February.

For a long time I’ve been in a quandary about something.  Most people who know me know of my interest in death, dying and the afterlife, but few know about my experience of being a student in an esoteric Christian School for a number of years.  This period of my life, in conjunction with the other-worldly experiences which began in my childhood, has had a profound and ongoing impact in shaping my way of being in the world and my relationship with what I term Higher Life, the Fourth Way, and Beyond the Fourth Way (all of which has been documented in a book I was asked to write when I was a student of the School).

Currently, there is a growing global social movement to reclaim our dying and death, to wrest it from the medicalised model and reductionist framework which has become so entrenched in the West, and to face our mortality with acceptance and fortitude.  In fact, over the last few years a whole new industry has sprung up in response to our disenfranchisement with death and dying.  The aim and intention of this industry is to enable us to take charge of the type of death we want including how, where and by whose hands we want to die, and what type of funeral or burial we might want.  Websites and blogs have sprung up on the world-wide web, national and international workshops and conferences are offered, journal articles are published and organisations and related events devoted to raising death-awareness and dispelling death fears populate social media and the marketplace.

While there is an intense focus on becoming ‘death literate’ (Noonan et al, 2016)[2] there are other quiet voices emphasising something else; the importance of what happens after death, preparing for our afterlife, and understanding why we’re born at all.  There is a purpose to our birth, as there is to our life, as there is to our death, the physical event of which is the door through which we pass from embodied life into disembodied life.  While we need to think about our death, we also need, as Tilby so eloquently puts it, a spiritual education prior to our death.  It seems to me that increasing emphasis is being placed on the event of our dying, but precious little emphasis being devoted to the spiritual purpose of our life.

We all have different ways of being in the world and understanding the spiritual nature of the universe, and I’m no different.  Being heavily influenced by the events of my childhood, (which if truth be told are not that uncommon), and the ongoing other-worldly or psychospiritual events which have not only populated my life but served to educate me, I am in no doubt that life continues after death, and that not only is death simply ‘deathless existence’ (Groves, 1998) but that ‘our sense of reality depends upon the way we know things’ (Groves, 1998) [3].  But there is more to it than this, much more.  I rather like the following Sufi teaching story, which illustrates this point:

Once upon a time the fishes of a certain river took counsel together and said, “They tell us that our life and being is from the water, but we have never seen water, and know not what it is”. 

Then some said, “There dwells in the sea a very wise fish who knows all things.  Let us journey to him and learn what water is”.  They made the journey, found the wise fish, and made their request.  He replied:

Oh ye who seek to solve the knot!

Ye live in God, yet know him not.

Ye sit upon the river’s brink,

Yet crave in vain a drop to drink.

Ye dwell beside a countless store

Yet perish hungry at the door.

They thanked him and said, “Forasmuch as you have shown us what water is not, we now know perfectly what it is”, and they returned home satisfied.

It seems to me, that we are the fish.

Noonan, K., Horsfall, D., Leonard, R. & Rosenberg, J. (2016) Developing death literacy, Progress in Palliative Care, 24:1, 31-35, doi: 10.1080/09699260.2015.1103498

Groves, P. (1998).  Consciousness as a Spectrum. 1998 Lecture Series. The Philip W. Groves Centre: Author.

 

February 25, 2019 /

Although ‘death literacy’ appears to be gaining ground, it seems to me that most people don’t really think about death all that much.

Do we all know we’ll die?  Does the idea of death, as a colleague of mine of posted in an online forum some time ago, lie in the back of our minds?  I think it does, but why?  Why is it there?  Why isn’t it in the front of our minds? Why is it that we often don’t engage with death or think about death until it touches us personally?  And why is it that generally, it is such an event that makes us notice death, makes us pay attention to it, not in a morbid way but in a way that enriches how we live our lives and shapes what we are living for?

Readers of this blog would be familiar with my childhood experiences, as they would my research, which explores after-death contact.  The literature terms these experiences “extraordinary” but for me they are ordinary and simply a part of life. When I was a child I first became aware of the fact that when people ‘died’ they didn’t really die because I could see them and interact with them.  But as I grew older, the vivacity of those and other non-ordinary experiences dimmed a little.  As I found my place in the world, responsibilities and duties gradually overshadowed the vividness and clarity of the world I experienced as a child.

On a far grander scale, perhaps humanity’s history is reflective of this, and perhaps in the growth of that history death, over time, has been forgotten, has fallen away from the front of the collective mind so to speak, so that now it sits in its recesses only to be seen or remembered when life, through certain events, calls us to remember.  It doesn’t seem to be a part of the psyche of the culture I live in, which is Western (a fact I have always found rather peculiar).  In contrast (for example), the ancient Egyptians quite literally lived to die.  The Egyptian Book of the Dead, or rather the English translation of “Yeret hur”, Coming Forth by Day (its correct name) reveals a sophisticated spiritual belief-system and world view which suggests that death was very much a part of the social fabric of life, (not just evidenced by the fact that the wealthy spent years building and decorating elaborate tombs well before their death).

To me this suggests a certain comfortability not only with death but with the afterlife – these people knew that they lived beyond death, they prepared for it.  Do we? I have a sense that death was once incorporated into life and understood, and that understanding had its rightful place in the culture and society; death was embraced in a manner quite ordinary.

Perhaps in humanity’s past people understood why they were alive much better than we do today.  I have found that often a death-related event turns a person inward.  They become contemplative, they ask meaningful questions and a psychospiritual shift appears to occur within them.  I have always felt that death was somehow intimately linked to the intrinsic spirituality of an individual.  In what state do we want to die?  In what state do I want to die?  How do we want to enter the spiritual universe?  How do I want to enter the spiritual universe?  What do we want to take with us?  What do I want to take with me?

Most people rarely think about death, and in fact to do so labels the individual “morbid”.  I have thought about death all my life.  I was socialised into it as a child and that socialisation has never stopped, if anything it has made me realise how imperative it is that we think about death as much as we think about life.  Elliott states it beautifully in writing, “Coming to terms with death is a lifetime’s work” as does Angela Tilby. “What is needed here is praeparatio mortis: preparation for death, a spiritual education in coming to terms with our mortality.  This is a task not for the last weeks of life – It is often too late by then …”.

Elliott, H. (2011). Moving beyond the medical model. Journal of holistic healthcare. Vol. 8, Issue 1, May.

Tilby, A. (2011). BBC Radio 4, Thought for the Day, 17 February.

February 25, 2019 /

A self-confessed spiritual person told me once that I wasn’t spiritual if I didn’t believe in reincarnation. I had responded in the negative to his question of whether or not I believed in the doctrine, and his response, though not dissimilar to others, caught me by surprise.  Later, I wondered why a belief in reincarnation had become a hallmark for being ‘spiritual’.  I also wondered why those individuals, when encountering an opposing stance, always either seemed compelled to argue otherwise or to look at me with a pitying expression on their face.  People often cite the evidence of past lives as proof, and there are compelling accounts, but intuitively I have always felt that the reality is other than what we believe it to be.

Some time ago I chanced across a book, “Thirty Years Among the Dead“, written by Carl A. Wickland, M.D. a psychiatrist, physician and physical researcher. It presents accounts of spiritual encounters with disembodied souls over a 30 year period, and is an incredibly fascinating insight into the work he undertook in treating patients with mental health problems who were being possessed by disembodied earth-bound spirits.

I opened the book randomly to Page 317 and read the following:

Very unexpectedly we had a visit from the one whose teachings and writings have made world-wide the theory of Reincarnation.

EXPERIENCE, NOVEMBER 1, 1922

Spirit: MADAM BLAVATSKY

Psychic: MRS. WICKLAND

I wanted to come to you this evening. I believe in the work this little circle is doing, and I am very pleased with the work you are carrying on. I wish there were more to help us, to meet us on a half way basis to understand there is no death …

I wanted to be a leader in some way or another. Now I want to bring the truth to the world. I knew of spirit manifestations and I had them myself. I did a great deal in my early days along this line but I commenced to investigate Theosophy … To me came Reincarnation … I studied Reincarnation, and I thought there was truth and justice in the theory that we come back and learn and have more experiences. I taught it and wanted to bring it out to the world and its peoples. I felt that I remembered far back in my past. I felt I knew all about my past, but I was mistaken.

Memories of “past lives” are caused by spirits that bring such thoughts and represent the lives they lived. A spirit impresses you with the experiences of its life and these are implanted in your mind as your own. You then think you remember your past.

When you study, especially when you study Theosophy, you develop your mind and live in an atmosphere of mind. You remove yourself as much as possible from the physical. Naturally you become sensitive and naturally you feel the spirits around you. They speak to you by impressions and their past will be like a panorama. You feel it, and you live over the past of spirits and you make the mistake of taking this for the memory of former incarnations.

I did not know this when I lived. I took it for granted that these memories were true, but when I came to the spirit side of life I learned differently … Reincarnation is not true. I did not want to believe that. They told me here in the spirit world that I could not reincarnate. We progress, we do not come back … If I impress a sensitive with an idea, in one sense I reincarnate – not in his body, but by impressing him with what I have done … No, Reincarnation is not true. I believed it, I taught it, and I was sure that I should come back and be somebody else. But I will not … Some may say this is not Madam Blavatsky, but do not doubt – it is.

I was astonished when I read this, especially as I am very familiar with Theosophy as I am with the principles of reincarnation. What’s more, I had chanced across this book and opened it randomly to Page 317. Isn’t it strange how events unfold?

February 25, 2019 /

My great-grandmother trained as a nurse at Guys Hospital in London in the early 20th Century. All was going well until she contracted what was then termed “brain fever” (probably a form of meningitis) which effectively put a stop to her nursing training. Although her eye-sight had been compromised as a result of the illness she remained undeterred from her calling, becoming both a midwife and a mortuary attendant (she laid out the dead and provided comfort to the bereaved) in the village in which she lived. I realise now she herself was an Amicus Mortis, a friend of the dying and the dead. She was also a trance medium and I fancy that as she companioned the dying when they lived life in the flesh, she also companioned them when they had divorced themselves from their mortal existence to begin their life in spirit.

I grew up listening to hilarious accounts of various ‘happenings’ (as they were termed by the family) occurring around the dead who were always laid out in the family parlour for viewing. Bodies occasionally sat up by themselves and made strange noises and sounds, garments and other items, particularly shoes, were often removed and replaced with poorer quality items by relatives, rowdy gatherings were commonplace, and it was obvious that death was very much a part of the social fabric of life.

I’ve never known this social aspect of death, this inclusiveness. All the deaths I have been involved with have taken place in hospital, and it seems that in the Western 21st Century, dying in the main occurs in medical settings; death generally appears to occur in medical settings. Somehow a social shift occurred which saw the event of death move from the family parlour to the hospital, where, according to Hermione Elliott, approximately 60% of deaths occur.[1]  Atul Gawande believes that advances in medical knowledge and treatment of illness combined with the fact that decisions began to be made for patients (rather than by them) and which were based on the opinion of medical experts, accounts for the major influences underpinning the shift responsible for removing the sick from the home where illness in a sense ran it’s natural course, to medical institutions which promised the hope of a cure.[2]

There are a plethora of books in the public domain as there are social and quasi-political movements calling for a revisioning of death, or perhaps more accurately a revisioning of how we ‘do’ death.  There is also a call for, and a vivification of, the voice of the patient and family in that they seek to reclaim ownership of the terms with which they die, and the ways in which family members and loved ones are supported throughout. It seems that people want to do death differently, and they want to do it on their own terms. They want access to physician-assisted or voluntary-assisted dying, voluntary euthanasia and end-of-life choices that support their own world-view, relevant belief-systems, and wishes. As Gawande notes, people want the right to end their stories on their own terms, in freedom, and with the understanding and acceptance of those terms by the medical profession.

Having experienced my own life-threatening illness and potential death, and having faced the moment in time when as I closed my eyes to sleep I truly didn’t know if when they opened again I would be here (still living life in the flesh), or there (disembodied and living life as a spiritual being in the spiritual universe), I understand the courage it takes to surrender to that unknown, to put your complete trust in an agency that you cannot see, to simply yield to the uncertainties that so often accompany death.[3]  It seems to me that you can only be to others what you have lived and been to yourself, so one of the challenges of being an Amicus to others, I would think, is to first live as an Amicus to yourself.

For many people their first encounter with death is generally vicarious; it is happening or has happened to someone else. Watching someone die or seeing a body for the first time can be a shock, evoking fear, confusion, avoidance or even revulsion. People can be overwhelmed and unprepared by their emotional responses and behaviours toward the dead. At a time when everything is not what it was, and nothing seems to make sense, the challenge for the Amicus is to be the metaphorical ‘eye of the storm’; that place from which surety, calmness, empathy, wisdom and loving understanding radiate. It is the Amicus who embodies those qualities and values, lives them, and then simply by being present wordlessly emanates them from their being. Although they know not how, others are often comforted by their presence, often, with nary a word being spoken.

I would think that an Amicus complements the medical and allied health team, and constitutes a component of the holistic care required at the end of life. Despite this, the Amicus could be perceived by other medical and allied health staff as an interloper, a ‘non-professional’ and someone lacking appropriate medical credentials, skills and training. In addition, the Amicus isn’t just a “presence”; they must have relevant knowledge and experience so as to provide practical guidance and information as well. For example, how can the body be maintained if the family wish to keep the deceased at home prior to the burial?

After much pondering and reflection on the conversations I have had with others, and especially so it seems at this moment in time[4], being an Amicus is somewhat of a social imperative, and that for many reasons.

We’re taught how to be resilient, and how to grow our careers, and get along in life but death doesn’t appear to be a part of our formal education. And I’m thinking that’s why we don’t talk about it; it’s simply not part of our education and as a consequence we’re not socialised into it.  I tend to think that this could well be why near-death experiences provide such a valuable education; they introduce us to an alternate perception of death, which can subsequently have a profound impact on how we live our lives.  Our great challenge is to understand the meaning of death with a view to how we live our lives.

The second challenge is maintaining the integrity of our being in the presence of others, whomever they may be, and whatever the situation, with assuredness, wisdom and understanding.  Many of us don’t think too much on death, and in fact to do so labels one as ‘morbid’.  I have thought about death all my life. I was socialised into it as a child, and that socialisation has never stopped, if anything, it has made me realise how imperative it is that we do think about death as much as we think about life. Elliott states it beautifully,  “coming to terms with death is a lifetime’s work”[5] as does Angela Tilby “what is needed here is praeparatio mortis: preparation for death, a spiritual education in coming to terms with our mortality. This is a task not for the last weeks of life – It is often too late by then …” [6]

It seems to me that it is our cosmic duty to develop our potentials and to introduce meaning and purpose to our lives. This is the praeparatio mortis that Tilby speaks of, and consciously preparing for our death is the “lifetime’s work” that Elliott speaks of. It may be a generalisation, but I feel that most people who are called to become an Amicus Mortis have lived a life of at least some preparation, and it is here that the Amicus Mortis come into their own for others who have not.

[1] Elliott, H. (20 August 2014). Death doulas complement nursing care at the end of life. Nursing Times.net. Available from: http://www.nursingtimes.net/hermione-elliott-death-doulas-complement-nursing-care-at-the-end-of-life/5073875.article

[2] Gawande, A. (2014). Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End. London: PROFILE BOOKS LTD.

February 25, 2019 /

Most blog authors are not only unashamedly subjective, but incredibly indulgent with regard to their opinions about their interests, passions, or values, and I’m no different, as any reader of these monthly blogs would agree.  I often wonder when writing them, whether I’m simply grappling with finding my own sense of the meaning of life, and utilising a blog-space to do so, or whether each blog entry offers something to the current death, dying and end-of-life discourse and literature.  Perhaps it’s a mixture of both.

We all have different ways of seeing the world, and determining and understanding our place within the world.  That seeing and understanding arises in response to a myriad of familial, social, cultural, spiritual, geographic and economic influences, all interweaving and impacting upon us at different times in our lives.  Our ‘lens’ through which we look to see the world (a metaphor for our attitudes, values and beliefs), is accordingly shaped in response, constructing a kind of psychospiritual and psychosocial paradigm which frames, governs and directs, ultimately, how we choose to live our lives.

Paradigms change.  They change because the ideas, beliefs, thoughts and actions of the people that construct them change.   According to The Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies (http://www.scenariomagazine.com/a-new-death-paradigm/), as a result of the growing movement of Death Doulas, networks of Death Cafes, and the use of social media platforms as expressions of mourning and loss, we’re not only creating our own emotional support system around dying, but redesigning death in a DIY manner.

There is no doubt that increasing social awareness of death and dying, in particular for ‘dying well’ and on the individual’s terms, evidences a movement away from an overtly medicalised environment for the dying, and generally speaking, our end-of-life.  The upsurge in death literacy in recent times (see Noonan et al, 2016, Developing death literacy, Progress in Palliative Care, 24:1, 31-35), such as for example, the global campaign for physician assisted dying, testifies to the fact that people want more say in how, when and where they die.

Death, the final transition, is the doorway through which we all pass.  It is the inevitable end to our physical birth as embodied beings.  Well, that’s how I contextualise it, that’s my paradigm.  But what about our life after death?  What is the paradigm for that?  Religion and spirituality provide many paradigms in answer to this question, as do non-ordinary phenomena such as near-death experiences, death-bed visions, out-of-body experiences and mediumship.  These demonstrate that we are more than our physical selves, that in addition to bone and flesh, we are something else that exists and eventually lives beyond the time when that bone and flesh can no loner sustain us.

We live until we die, and then what?  That is the burning question.

February 25, 2019 /

 

I came across two quotes recently, which though the author of each appears to have garnered the roots of them from different life experiences and ways of being in the world, seem to contain an underlying theme:

 

“I believe that the greatest truths of the universe don’t lie outside, in the study of the stars

and the planets.  They lie deep within us, in the magnificence of our heart, mind, and soul.

Until we understand what is within, we can’t understand what is without.”

Anita Moorjani, Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing. Hay House, 2012.

 

“Each person is a miniature universe in which life enacts and dramatises its processes and events.

The whole world plays upon and interacts with every individual, and becomes intimately

involved in their makeup.  A human being is a togetherness of celestial, spiritual, mental,

emotional, biological, chemical, physical, terrestrial, solar and sidereal substances,

forces and processes, and must necessarily live in and through this multiplicity of

things in order to become a fully evolved being.”

Philip W. Groves, Spiritual Foundations. Triam Press, 2012.

 

The theme is ‘relationship’.  It’s alluded to in these quotes as something almost intersubjective, as something which connects us to something deep and abiding within us, as it does with something equally deep and abiding outside us.  If ‘Man’ is regarded as the representation, in miniature, of the universe, how are we to understand that?

What are those ‘greatest truths’ that Moorjani speaks of in her book, and how does life ‘enact and dramatise its processes and events’ within us, as Groves states?  How are we to understand what Man is or is not, or what the universe is or is not?

Perhaps these authors are talking about reality, not visible or material reality, but spiritual reality?  Perhaps too, they are inviting us to consider what ‘reality’ is?  It seems to me that there are times in all our lives when we know the difference between what is real, and what is not.  The literature abounds with numerous accounts of other-worldly experiences whereby the veil of illusion is lifted and an alternate reality experienced.

And are the glimpses we see then, in the intersection of those two worlds, aspects of those ‘greatest truths’ that Moorjani speaks of?  Are they the shadows of the ‘universe’ that Groves speaks of?   I wonder …

February 25, 2019 /

In September 2014, I facilitated my first Death Cafe; Death Cafe Marrickville.  Inspired by a friend who had been running Death Cafe’s in London (Death Cafe Hamstead), and who herself was deeply involved in the natural death movement, and after much thought and preparation, the time had come to step into the unknown.  Which I did one sunny spring day, heading for a nearby suburb in an attempt to  locate a cafe which would play host to my planned monthly events.

After receiving a wide range of responses, not all of which were overly encouraging, I found myself walking through a doorway and up a staircase which led initially to a first-floor landing.  This continued up to the second floor, and another small landing, on which was a black door.  Upon entering, I found myself in a huge room.  At one end of the room was a low stage, while running the length of one of the walls was a well decked out bar.  Ecclectic furniture decorated the room, with randomly arranged coffee tables, overstuffed couches and gorgeous Chesterfields quite literally consuming the entire space.  Art decor lamps offered muted light in the dim expanse, while heavy brocade drapes, hanging from a high ceiling across tall windows which faced the street, emitted slivers of the hot afternoon glare.

I remember feeling rather awkward, particularly as there was a group of men having a drink and chatting with one another next to the bar.  I wondered if I might have interrupted a gathering of sorts? After identifying the owner, I took a deep breath, launched into my ‘spiel’ and waited.  Craig, who I learnt later shared ownership of Lazy Bones Lounge with Alex, looked at me and said, “A death cafe, what a great idea.”  I was home.

Since that time, both Craig and Alex have generously hosted Death Cafe Marrickville.  Demonstrating great faith in my ability and commitment to encourage death-related discussion in the community, they have been tireless supporters of my endeavours, incredibly patient, and wonderful hosts; in addition to tea, coffee and cake, many a Death Cafe devotee has been offered a glass of wine by Craig during the afternoon session!

In reflecting on Death Cafe Marrickville, its’ been my experience that no two Death Café’s have ever been alike.  In fact, they’re all unique because everyone who attends, even the ‘regulars’ who may come and go, are internally touched in some way, or moved, by whatever they hear.  Being the facilitator, I am especially aware of this with regard to myself.  On many occasions I have learnt about aspects of the funeral industry I was previously unaware of, have had my ‘mental muscles’ poked, prodded and stimulated by attitudes, opinions and behaviour in contrast to my own, and have felt a deep communion with what I believe psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical suffering of others so often reveals; our shared humanity.

The Death Cafe movement (see deathcafe.com) has been inspirational in promoting community-based ‘death literacy’ or in layman’s terms, a forum designed to deconstruct the fear and stereotypes so often associated with death and dying related issues.

The Death Cafe movement was founded in 2011 by Jon Underwood from Hackney, East London, after being inspired by the eminent Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. He created the Death Cafe website and formalised the concept of free gatherings, hosted by willing individuals under a set of guidelines. At each meeting, people gather to discuss death and the varied topics and issues accompanying the subject. Far from being sombre or negative, feedback has proved the Death Cafes to be respectful, supportive occasions,  with warmth, laughter and lively discussion throughout. The enthusiasm generated by these gatherings has meant that the concept has travelled far and wide, mainly via word of mouth and social media.

If you’re interested in attending Death Cafe Marrickville, or just want to keep up to date with what’s on, visit us at facebook.com/deathcafemarrickville/ or at our website at waysofbeing.com.au  You can even send an email to info@waysofbeing.com.au