Death is a profound rite of passage that escapes no-one. Facing the end of life process – whether through illness or old age, disease or accident – can be made meaningful and bearable by creating the appropriate rituals and celebrations. End of life ceremonies to mark this final passage, and the people and relationships involved, are incredibly important.
The funeral is the most sacred and profound ceremony to conduct. It is the final authoring of one’s life. But often families are unprepared and unresourced. Even with an expected death, many families find the essential information they need to make decisions and feel empowered with choices, is not available to them.
It is not just the funeral though, how many of us have a plan for our dying? Given that most of us (70%) will die a progressive and predictable death from a chronic illness, it’s not like we won’t have time to plan and think about it! At the beginning of life, many mothers will have a birth plan, that is no huge surprise these days, so what about a plan at end of life? Not a funeral payment plan thing, but a real plan that physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepares us and those we love.
Recently it was Dying to Know Day, a community initiative by a group called The Groundswell Project, that promotes demystifying death and dying and encouraging death literacy through sharing and discussing our wishes and plans. On Dying to Know Day the invitation was for families to begin the conversations with loved ones and talk about death and dying. What do you want? What do you not want? How do you want to die? What is important to you?
Increasingly this is becoming part of my consultancy practice, beyond my funeral craft as a celebrant, where I offer pastoral care and assistance with preparations and choices. There is often important work to do around the conversations of completion and creating the opportunities for any important relationship healing and repairs. There is actually great comfort, joy and creative satisfaction to be found when you engage with this stuff, and become the author of your life story. You get to review your legacy, curate your own life’s’ ‘body of work’ and make meaning of it all.
Taking back power and agency at end of life is an amazing frontier of evolving social development. We have many options and rights that many of us aren’t aware of, and there are many worth fighting for to have that we don’t have yet. Grass roots, community-based funerals, tending to our loved ones and home dying, as well as after-death vigils and natural funerals/burials just to name a few as food for thought.
As it happened, Dying to Know Day strangely coincided with a number of untimely deaths – young, unexpected and tragic deaths – in our community and friendship circles. These deaths hit close to home. In amongst our shared grief, the deep and rich vein of conversation had naturally already been initiated about how we would want to die and how death affects us. My family was keen to talk.
My husband and son no.2 and I went out for lunch and discussed our dying choices and what is important for us. It was an interesting, lovely, surprising and revealing conversation, and amazing how even among the three of us, there was such difference! We all take a unique path in our life and love and we should equally have choice and empowerment in our death too.
For the record, so far, I’m hoping when it is my time at a very ripe and generous evolvement (not ageing, but evolving), that I can plan as best I can for my death to be gentle, peaceful, pain free, surrounded by family, in my home, with my dog present, in a sun-filled room with views of the ocean. I want minimal medical intervention, no futile treatments, but rather opt for choices that promote quality of time over quantity of time.
I wouldn’t mind my family hosting a home vigil after, if they are comfortable with that. A home vigil offers the time for a gentle farewell and visits from loved ones, and enables mingling, conversations, music, laughter, stories and the hubbub of life to flow around as the soul gently exits. I’d love a mushroom shroud and flower-filled wicker basket burial in a forest, so I can return to the earth. If that is still not a viable option by then, I’ll satisfy myself with a cremation and you can put my ashes in one of ceramic artist, Ashley Fiona‘s beautiful bespoke Ashkeepers.
I hope there is a cracker of a celebration after and for there to be lots of music…a big playlist….and I hope people will dance, laugh, be merry and speak of life and love. If my death is unforeseen and quick, donate my organs to save another’s life. I would want everyone to know they are special to me, I loved being part of their lives and them a part of mine. I’d want all my couples and families that I have married, named, farewelled and helped to know that through their lives & loves they gifted me with an extraordinary opportunity to live my passion and creativity and bliss and I will be eternally grateful and will be shining blessings of love on them from the eternal divine cosmos. And of course, my family will know my love will never leave them.
Let’s keep this conversation alive….what are you dying for your family to know?
Sarah Tolmie is a life & love coach, therapist and consultant. Her practice focuses on helping individuals, couples and families navigate, grow and heal through all their life & love events, changes and challenges – including love, marriage & family relationships; success, health & wellness; and grief & loss, as well as coping with illness, dying and death. Sarah is also a Life & Love Celebrant, and Pastoral Care Practitioner, creating profound and meaningful ceremonies for all life & love events. In her practice Sarah’s focus is on maintaining a heart-based, love-led, laughter-filled and meaning-making life. Sarah is also an Isagenix consultant for health, weight management and longevity. You can visit her website new.sarahtolmie.com.au and receive her Daily Love updates on her Facebook page at Sarah Tolmie – Life & Love.