Talk­ing about death opens a door to an­other world

De­mys­ti­fy­ing dy­ing for those mak­ing their fi­nal farewell and those left be­hind

Central and North Burnett Times - - READ -

“Life asked death, ‘Why do peo­ple love me but hate you?’ Death re­sponded, ‘Be­cause you are a beau­ti­ful lie and I am a painful truth.” – Anonymous

YOU strug­gle to stay awake. The urge to eat and drink is gone.

Your head is foggy, you’re deliri­ous and, as your body grows weaker, you lose con­trol of your blad­der and bow­els.

A cold chill creeps along your fin­gers and toes be­fore slowly mov­ing up your limbs – a sure sign that your blood has stopped cir­cu­lat­ing in your ex­trem­i­ties and your body is de­vot­ing all of its en­ergy into keep­ing your heart and brain alive.

Red and blue blotches mark your skin, ev­ery breath is a bat­tle and, fi­nally, your heart stops and the world goes black.

This is what dy­ing feels like.

Let’s talk about death

“There are no words to re­ally de­scribe it,” Michael Visser says of the mo­ment your brain shuts down.

Re­veal­ing he’s jour­neyed into “the other re­al­ity” many times over the years, Dr Visser tells Week­end Mag­a­zine he had his first near death ex­pe­ri­ence as a four-year-old.

“My par­ents left me in a car for a few sec­onds and I had al­most like an anx­i­ety at­tack and ex­treme fear,” the 53-year-old Bris­bane medico ex­plains.

“From that mo­ment I was no longer in my body.

“I was sur­rounded by light be­ings who told me I wasn’t alone and I shouldn’t worry.”

Un­like Dr Visser, most of us shy away from talk­ing about our own end of days.

Last year, a Pal­lia­tive Care Aus­tralia sur­vey found that while 82% reckon it’s a sub­ject we need to raise with our fam­i­lies, only 28% will ac­tu­ally have the con­ver­sa­tion.

Meet Aus­tralia’s death talker

Death talker Molly Carlile is de­ter­mined to turn around that statis­tic by de­mys­ti­fy­ing the process for peo­ple who are dy­ing and those of us left be­hind.

The spe­cial­ist pal­lia­tive care nurse’s ob­ses­sion with teach­ing peo­ple how to “die well” started two decades ago when she helped a young mum pass away from ovar­ian can­cer.

“That mother re­ally in­tro­duced me to the idea that nurs­ing is more than car­ing for peo­ple’s phys­i­cal health,” the au­thor of three books on the topic says.

“Talk­ing about dy­ing is the most im­por­tant dis­cus­sion we will have.

“You only get to die once, so you can’t af­ford to stuff it up. “For some peo­ple, a good death is about be­ing aware and be­ing able to talk and in­ter­act with their loved ones.

“For oth­ers, a good death is pain-free and a quick one.”

Pre­par­ing for our fi­nal farewell

In Aus­tralia, some­one dies ev­ery three min­utes and 17 sec­onds.

Ac­cord­ing to the Grat­tan In­sti­tute’s Dy­ing Well re­port, 54% of us will take our last breath in hospi­tal, 32% will cross over in a res­i­den­tial care fa­cil­ity and the rest of us will spend our fi­nal mo­ments in our own homes.

If we die in hospi­tal or a res­i­den­tial care fa­cil­ity, the staff will take care of all the for­mal­i­ties, they will en­sure our body is col­lected from their mor­tu­ary and that we are de­liv­ered to the fu­neral home of our fam­ily’s choice.

When we die at home, our loved ones will need to con­tact our GP who will ver­ify that we have passed away from nat­u­ral causes and the doc­tor will is­sue the death cer­tifi­cate. That’s when pro­fes­sion­als like Jo Smith take over. “Loved ones are brought into our care and will re­main in our mor­tu­ary un­til the day be­fore the ser­vice,” the softly spo­ken 61-year-old White Lady Fu­ner­als direc­tor says.

“The day be­fore the ser­vice the de­ceased are pre­pared for burial.

“The body is lifted and placed on the prepa­ra­tion tray very care­fully and re­spect­fully.

“The de­ceased is never laid out with­out a cov­er­ing and the process of wash­ing is very gen­tle.

“Their body is washed, their hair is washed, they are dressed in the cloth­ing that the fam­ily pro­vides or some­times the fam­ily does not wish to have cloth­ing so they are dressed in a shroud.

“Then they are placed in the cof­fin ready for the ser­vice.”

How fu­ner­als have changed over time

The world’s old­est graves are from 60,000 BC, show­ing that, re­gard­less of cul­ture and re­li­gion, hu­mans have al­ways held end-of-life rituals and cer­e­monies in high re­gard; buried their dead in sa­cred places; and memo­ri­alised them in some way.

Fu­ner­als were once som­bre oc­ca­sions but these days most of us will choose to cel­e­brate the end of our lives with mu­sic, colour­ful clothes and even me­mo­rial par­ties such as wakes

A re­cent in­dus­try sur­vey found 59% of Aus­tralians ex­pect their fu­neral ser­vice to be “re­laxed and re­flec­tive” while 27% hope their fi­nal jour­ney will be marked by a “ju­bi­lant, cel­e­bra­tory, fun and ir­rev­er­ent” event.

Just 12% want a “dig­ni­fied” ser­vice and only 1% of Aussies opt for a “solemn and se­ri­ous” fu­neral.

“We lis­ten to the fam­ily’s story be­cause that’s im­por­tant to them and then we try to pro­vide all the things they want,” Ms Smith says of lay­ing the ground­work for the fi­nal rit­ual.

“We talk about where the ser­vice will be and we talk about the flow­ers, the type of cof­fin, no­tices in the news­pa­per, if they want things like doves or but­ter­flies, the or­der of the ser­vice.

“Peo­ple are show­ing more films and pho­to­graphs of their loved ones at ser­vices and mu­sic has be­come very im­por­tant.”

Come in­side the cre­ma­to­rium

Af­ter the ser­vice, our bod­ies will ei­ther be buried or cre­mated.

Two out of three Aus­tralians will choose cre­ma­tion, one in five of us want to go in the ground and 14% of us do not have a pref­er­ence, trend-tracker McCrindle says in its Deaths and Fu­ner­als in Aus­tralia re­port.

Death is big busi­ness in Aus­tralia – for ex­am­ple, coffins cost around $350 to make but re­tail for up to $2000 each while fu­ner­als will set us back $8000 to $12,000.

With around 160,000 Aus­tralians pass­ing away each year, the fu­neral in­dus­try turns over $1.1 bil­lion an­nu­ally, em­ploys 5643 peo­ple, sup­ports 848 busi­nesses and has a forecast growth of 2.5%, IbisWorld’s Fu­neral Direc­tors, Cre­ma­to­ria and Ceme­ter­ies 2016 re­port says.

Al­bany Creek Me­mo­rial Park in Bris­bane’s north is one of the busiest fa­cil­i­ties of its kind in Aus­tralia.

Run by in­dus­try gi­ant In­voCare, the 53-year-old 40ha park cur­rently com­mem­o­rates the lives of 50,000 peo­ple and it has room for tens of thou­sands more.

Jack-of-all trades Robert Phillips over­sees about 100 buri­als a year at the park and the cre­ma­tion of around 2000 bod­ies.

Dur­ing a walk­through of the cre­ma­to­rium, the 48-year-old ex­plains how a body ar­rives for its fi­nal jour­ney in the fa­cil­ity’s no-frills load­ing bay.

Mr Phillips com­pletes a thor­ough check of all pa­per­work be­fore sign­ing for the sealed cof­fin.

When a body is to be cre­mated, a small sil­ver plaque with the

Sherele Moody Sherele.Moody@news­re­gional­me­dia.com.au PHOTO: SHERELE MOODY

◗ Robert Phillips sits next to the me­mo­rial for his son Cooper, who died at birth. Mr Phillips works at the Al­bany Creek Me­mo­rial Park over­see­ing cre­ma­tions and buri­als.

PHOTO: ROBERT HOETINK

◗ Two out of three Aus­tralians will choose cre­ma­tion, one in five want to go in the ground and 14% of us do not have a pref­er­ence, trend-tracker McCrindle says.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

◗ Michael Visser says he has had many near death ex­pe­ri­ences.

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