stimulating profound conversations about living and dying well
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.