stimulating profound conversations about living and dying well
It might seem morbid, but it's actually a great way to assess your values.
Do you ever wonder what people will say about you when you die? If you want to have your final say on your own life from beyond the grave, consider writing your own obituary, like this 35 year old Canadian woman who recently died of cancer.
Writing your own obituary gives you an opportunity to reflect on what is truly valuable to you, and serves as a reminder that we are all living with an expiry date that may come sooner than later. Look at your obituary and edit it every year: notice how your perspective changes, or doesn't. Make sure to keep an updated copy with your personal documents like your birth certificate, Will, and Advance Care Directive.
The epidemic of seniors dying alone in Japan has become such an issue that there is now a word for it.
Japan has an aging demographic that is more distant from their families than ever before. As a result, more and more elderly people are dying alone. Two particular reasons for this phenomenon reveal insight into a culture in transition.
The most obvious statistical reason for Kodokushi, or "Lonely Death," is that younger Japanese people are having fewer and fewer children, meaning that the aging population is under-serviced in terms of the physical, emotional, and/or psychological care that aging naturally requires. This Business Insider article suggests that there are more people over the age of 65 than ever before in Japan's history, meaning that the workforce is aging out, and there are fewer taxpayers paying into social security programs. Add standardized long work hours to the cultural mix, and we're seeing the return of a tradition called ubasute, or "granny dumping," where elderly people are basically abandoned to social services or simply abandoned to care for themselves.
Another reason for Kodokushi has roots in the 1960s and 70s, when Japan's economy boomed and entire towns were established around infrastructure projects. Many workers moved away from their families in order to support them by working on these projects and, as the economy settled down and the workers aged out, many of them never left, having grown distant from their loved ones. The documentary below explains this is more detail, from the perspective of a "lonely death cleaner."
While Kodokushi and ubasute have specific social and cultural roots in Japan, there is a similar nameless tragedy that has been unfolding in Canada for several generations now. The elderly are often given over to long term care facilities instead of being taken in by their family and given the security, comfort, and familiarity of aging and dying among loved ones. While it may be easy to blame this on a cultural trend, it's worth questioning the source of why that trend continues to be so pervasive. Certainly long work hours, and the lack of flexibility and support from employers, contributes to the choice to give over the care of older family members to facilities. A lack of government-funded childcare resources may likewise contribute to this issue. Perhaps there is fear of losing freedom or having one's lifestyle shift when an elderly person in need of care moves into the family home. And maybe the reticence is due to a lack of familiarity with how caring for a dying person is done,
Cultural and policy shifts are accomplished on both grassroots and administrative levels, and it's very much up to each of us as individuals, families, communities, and policy-influencers to decide how the care of our loved ones should look like, and how we would like our own dying time to be supported.
In times of stress and conflict with our loved ones, it is more important than ever to prioritize the relationship over our own needs, which is easier said than done. But it can be truly magical when one person steps out of their own entitlement to their perspective, and reaches across the divide to embrace the other as friend instead of enemy. In that space of choosing WE over ME, truly heart-centred understanding has a chance to bloom.
Updating advance care directives helps avoid medical error and more
A Helpful Tip: Paperwork takes us out of the moment and seems like a bothersome chore to many people. If you’re not one to dwell on your mortality, writing an Advance Directive can get shuffled to the bottom of your priorities indefinitely. However, according to this Huffington Post article, “patients who have planned in advance for the end of their lives spend less time in the hospital, receive fewer intensive treatments, and have greater quality of life when they reach their final days. In addition, their surviving relatives experience less stress, anxiety and depression during the process.”
We at Persephone Passages recommend that you create an Advance Directive now, even if you believe you are years away from death. An Advanced Directive gives caregivers who are not familiar with your medical history guidance in an emergency. It also tells first responders and emergency room doctors what kind of treatments you do and do not wish to receive should you be too ill to communicate.
How to do it: Ask your family doctor to recommend a resource to help you create an Advance Directive. ACDs are specific to each province (if you're in Canada like us) or state (if you reside in the USA). They will know which form is recognized in your area of residence. This is the form for British Columbia. Then review your Advance Directive every one to five years, or whenever you feel your worldview or values have changed. Reviewing the document is like checking in with your past self. It helps you notice how you’ve grown or remained consistent, and affirms your autonomy over your bodily care. As you consider your medical wishes, also consider who in your family and inner circle needs to know about them. Check in with people in your support network. This will also give you the opportunity to deepen the bonds between you and the people you love. When your loved ones know your wishes in a medical emergency, the experience will be less stressful for them, too.
Monica Byrne juxtaposes inevitability of death with fixation on eternal life
This article was originally published on SevenPonds on November 30, 2016
Science fiction writer, playwright and culture critic Monica Byrne explores the experience of witnessing death from the perspective of a 318-year-old woman in her Ted Talk, “A Sci-Fi Vision of Love From a 318-Year-Old Hologram.” The woman is named Pilar, and she is living in the near future, at a time when humans have colonized the universe and the average lifespan is approximately 400 years. As Pilar, Byrne reflects on the great love of her life, Naveed, whose death challenged her obsession with eternal life.
Pilar tells the story of how she met Naveed, and describes Naveed’s special interest in touch as a way to communicate and connect. Through that relationship, Pilar’s fascination with eternal life continued, as she considered death a problem to be solved. She describes how, in her lifetime, planet Earth is where people are sent to die so that others don’t have to witness the event. When Naveed starts to “decline,” Pilar travels to Earth alongside her partner. There, she develops a way to preserve a person’s consciousness for eternity, but only as a holographic form.
Through this experience, Pilar realizes that what makes the human connection so unique and precious is the state of being embodied. Having sensation is a way of experiencing the world, and touch is a profound way to understand others and oneself. While consciousness may be undying, Pilar must come to terms with the value of an embodied life. Eventually, she realizes that value is based on the richness of experience, not how long a life lasts.
New festival aims to shift the way we think about mortality
This article was originally published on SevenPonds on December 11, 2016
What comes to mind when you think about the words “festival” and “death”?
Peter Banki, an associate member of the Philosophy Research Initiative at the University of Western Sydney, hopes you will get curious, and a little excited. Banki is the creator and director of the Festival of Death and Dying, which recently enjoyed a successful debut run in Sydney, Australia, from Nov. 18-20, 2016. The festival included about 30 workshops and events designed to encourage attendees to think about death and dying. Banki employed art, interactive processes and conversations to introduce concepts aimed at broadening mainstream engagement with this most universal of experiences.
An opening and closing ceremony knitted together the festival, bracketing a plethora of topics such as living with grief, dying at home, the afterlife, near-death visions, suicide, voluntary assisted dying and more. The content was both philosophical and practical. There were also workshops that featured yoga and dancing, and one that explored the human urge to seek edge experiences called “Thresholds and Lust,” presented by Banki.
Victoria Spence, a civil celebrant who collaborated with Banki on the festival, presented the workshop “Developing Your Mortality Muscle.” Spence, whose practice includes providing cooling beds to people who wish to keep the body of their loved one at home instead of opting for a more professionalized affair, discussed how many people respond to the shock of death on a physiological level as an urge to fight, take flight, freeze or submit. She suggests that we allow ourselves time to be around death — the way it looks, feels, smells. As we do so, the human nervous system will adjust its response to mentally and physiologically normalize it.
Peter Roberts, a music thanatologist (also called a therapeutic music practitioner) who has been serving in his field for 20 years, also shared his insights about the great transition. His sessions help people let go of anxiety — and their bodies. Roberts is also the inventor of the Reverie Harp, a pre-tuned instrument that anyone can play to produce an array of soothing vibrations.
Palliative care physician Dr. Michael Barbato has devoted considerable time to investigating the dreams and visions people have as their body is dying, and presented a workshop based on his findings. Another offering allowed festival participants to get up close and personal with death and dying by laying in a satin-lined coffin and otherwise “feeling it out.”
It seems as though mainstream interest in death and dying is growing at a steady rate, and the Festival of Death and Dying is one such symptom of this shift. Considering that training for doctors of Western medicine has yet to include practical training around how to companion their patients and patients’ families through the dying journey, the reclamation of and re-education around these natural processes is a welcome and positive sign.
Persephone Passages and Sacred Embodiment Founder Juniper Quin riffs on birth, death, and everything in between. She lives in North Vancouver, BC in the traditional and unceded territory of the Coast Salish nations with her husband, father-in-law, and an ever-expanding family of mostly edible houseplants.