A woman died at a conference I went to on 6 September, 2014. Instead of panic there was peace and calm. The moment had been expected and family members knew what to do. Her mother held her and wept. No one rushed. We all looked on in quiet respect; humbled by being able to witness such an intimate moment. It felt like there was all the time in the world to say goodbye. Victoria Spence from Life Rites guided proceedings as family members worked together to lift the body onto a cooling bed and do practical tasks like making a cuppa and phoning close family members.
After the well-executed role play had ended, I inquisitively had a close look at the cooling bed. Surprisingly its motor barely made any noise which you would want in a home situation. I was even more surprised at just how icy-cold the metal board had become. I was unable to lay on it for long as it was just too cold for my living body to bear; it was painfully cold. These boards are new to Australia and are imported from Holland as an established part of the after death care industry. Victoria advised you can legally keep a body at home for up to five days. Using the cooling board helps preserve the body for that time period.
Why would you want to keep a dead body in your home?
Why would you want to keep a dead body in your home? This is what Death Literacy is all about; to learn, talk and plan for dying, death and bereavement in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. One aspect of death literacy is by reclaiming and extending that transition between death and funeral preparation, we get to spend time with our loved one.
Someone will wash the body. Someone will dress the body. Someone will close the eyes for the final time. At the critical moment of death, someone will perform these tasks for the person whom we have loved and cared for all our lives. Why do we give these meaningful rituals away to a stranger? Why do we give away the best stuff? Anne O’Connor
Kerrie Noonan, Founder of Groundswell, is the organiser behind the inaugural Death Literacy conference. Over 100 people attended making it a sold out event. It was an engaging, enlightening, informative day where we learned about the latest research and heard personal stories and practical examples that are resulting in social and cultural change around death, dying and bereavement. We are reconnecting with death as part of life which makes us more engaged with life. What a paradox.
The program included:
- Defining Death Literacy | Kerrie Noonan, Groundswell Project & UWS and Dr Debbie Horsfall, UWS
- Death literate health services | John Rosenberg, QUT
- Best death possible: A guide to dying in Australia | Dr Sarah Winch, QUT & Health Ethics Australia, Author
- Role play example | Victoria Spence, Life Rites
- Role of the social enterprise and the Third sector | Dr Rosemary Leonard, CSIRO, UWS
- Community Funerals | Jenny Briscoe-Hough, Tender Funerals
- Social Action Marketplace – Die-alogue Café
- Special screening documentary – Love in our own time
During the lunch break I met lots of wonderful inspirational people but the three stand outs were: Dr Michael Barbato, Dr Ben Zion-Weiss, Kerrie Noonan.
Dr Michael Barbato
Dr Michael Barbato has been in medical practice for more than 40 years and has been a palliative care physician for over 20 years. What got me excited was that for years he has devoted his life to raising people’s awareness about After death Communications (ADC). It was thrilling listening to his personal and professional experiences in this area. We swapped cards and I will be definitely be contacting him as part of my research in this area.
Have just bought his book online: Reflections of a Setting Sun. This book explores the mystery of death and the many extraordinary experiences that occur at the interface between life and death including … After Death Communications in Australia.
Dr Ben Zion-Weiss
Ben facilitated the subject Applied Imagination in first semester 2012 during my Master of Education – Social Ecology. It was during this time that my son, Robbie, was tragically killed in a car accident. Robbie was at Newcastle Uni. Robbie and I were having the most amazing conversations via Facebook private messages about consciousness. Some of his posts I posted on the student portal for our subject which Ben and others had commented on. It was like Robbie was part of this unit as well. I changed my focus to using this subject to explore my lived experience of what was happening in my life after Robbie’s death. It was very raw, very real and very helpful. Reconnecting in person with Ben was very special.
After communicating with Kerrie online about Death Cafes and Dying to Know Day for some months, it was wonderful to actually meet her in person. She is so passionate and comes up with such innovative and engaging ideas to promote conversations around death, dying and bereavement.
A day well spent learning the ABC of Death Literacy:
- A: After Death Communications
- B: Barbato (Dr)
- C: Cooling beds
OFF THE CUFF | speaking life into death