In Conversation with Linda

Firstly, I’d like to extend my best wishes to everyone during what has been a most challenging year for all of us.  If you have been bereaved during this time in any way, my sincere heartfelt condolences are sent to you. 

I am delighted to share a recent Podcast interview with the wonderful, dynamic Linda Hayden who invited me to join her for her PACwoman podcast.  Linda is not only a wonderful activist who supports and advocates for victims, she is also an extremely talented comedian, so this interview was unlike any I’ve ever done before!  It is full of empathy, a touch of death and grief, but primarily focussed on positivity and life, sprinkled with a few laughs out loud.  A link to the podcast on iTunes and Spotify are at the bottom of this blogpost.   

As Linda mentioned, my book can be found anywhere online and in some bookshops and it is called Grief Demystified: An Introduction.  Additionally, for anyone interested in learning more about grief online in the comfort of their own home, the wonderful Rosalie Kuyvenhoven and myself have recorded a lovely one hour introduction to contemporary grief theory and supporting the bereaved here: Grief Training for Professionals. 

While I have your attention, you might like to head on over to the Irish Hospice Foundation to check out their Think Ahead document if you’re in Ireland or Compassion in Dying in the UK for an advance directive.  For online resources, information and support for palliative care Marie Curie are amazing. 

For those of you interested, here are the links to everything else that I mentioned during my interview with Linda (and if you are unable to open paywall protected research use the sci hub website): 

  1. My PhD Research  
  1. EKR: On Death & Dying Book 
  1. 2020 Becker et al research  
  1. 2020 Birrell et al research  
  1. Bonanno resilience research 
  1. Tedeschi & Calhoun Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) research 
  1. Death and the Irish Book 
  1. Death Café Website 
  1. Louise Winter at Poetic Endings 
  1. My post on “Battle” language referring to death, dying & bereavement 

The PACwoman podcast can be accessed on iTunes and Spotify

I would be delighted to hear any comments or feedback that you have on the interview and if you wish to get in touch my website is http://www.carolinelloyd.co.uk  I wish you all a safe and peaceful week.  

The Importance of Stories: Children, Dying and Death

It is my pleasure to host an essay by Dr Rachel Fearnley who is a research consultant specialising in children’s lives when a parent has a life-limiting physical illness.   In my book I introduce the concept of anticipatory grief as the process of grieving before a person has died and the impact of witnessing terminal or degenerative illnesses.  I have also written an earlier blogpost about the language used when referring to cancer.  Dr Fearnley’s work dovetails into my research and has very kindly accepted my invitation to provide an insight into her research and expertise into how children’s lives are impacted as a result of a parent’s life limiting physical illness.

The Importance of Stories: Children, Dying and Death

‘We live in stories, not statistics’ (Gilbert 2002). Anyone who has heard me speak will be familiar with this quote, how it is representative of my career and how the sentiment held within it is core to my values. Stories have always been central to my career starting in the early 80s when I was employed as a nursery nurse. For me story-time at the end of each session was a magical, special time to be treasured. I always enjoyed telling the young children stories which captured their imaginations and took them off on wonderful adventures and to different places and situations. Later as I changed career the emphasis shifted from telling stories to listening to other’s stories and helping them to try and begin to make some sense from what was happening in their lives. Through this role in family support I became increasingly interested in social and emotional aspects of dying and death.

This curiosity led me back to university where I undertook a PhD which explored children’s experiences when a parent is at the end of life. My research was  qualitative, and at its core was the emphasis on listening to children’s stories about their experiences. Within the research process I encountered gatekeepers who wanted to protect children from being exposed to the research. I was told that it would ‘upset’ the children if they started talking about what was happening in their lives and that it was therefore inappropriate to begin to explore with them their thoughts, feelings and stories. However, when I did find people who were willing to engage in and support the research I was overwhelmed with the openness and honesty from the children and young people I met. Yes some were upset talking about what was happening after all it was an emotional and very personal topic. But our meetings were contained in a safe place and were managed by a person who genuinely wanted to listen and take time to try and understand. The participants were engaging and shared their stories willingly and moreover all said how it had been helpful talking to someone who was really interested in their stories and who was prepared to listen without passing judgement.

Their stories often shared a similar theme; they wanted to be involved in conversations about their parent’s illness. However, for many this was not always the situation. There was a sense that adults tried to protect them from the realities of what was happening. There was a view that children were ‘too young’ to be told or that they didn’t need to know because the information would be too distressing. However, the children and young people I met generally held a very different perspective. They all had a ‘knowing’ that something serious was happening in their family, even when this had not been articulated to them. In these situations there was a tendency for them to put two and two together but not make four. They spoke about picking up cues from observations (of their parent’s behaviour and changes in their health) and from overheard conversations. For some young people there was a sense of frustration that they were being ignored and that indirectly they were being given the message that they were not important in what was happening within their family. This, I think, is a sad reflection of how in society there continues to be a need to exclude children from dying and death.

Tony Walter (1996) has written about dying and death from a sociological perspective. Within his work he suggests that an important element following a death is for individuals to be able to talk to others about the deceased person and through this to develop a ‘durable biography’. This durable biography, according to Walter, not only allows them to learn more about the deceased person but also about themselves. He suggests that the process by which this is achieved is through conversations and discussions with others who knew the deceased person. The maintaining of the relationship, Walter argues, is substantially achieved by talking about the deceased person with others who had known them, sharing stories and memories, adding previously unknown information and also challenging previously held assumptions about them. I have built on Walter’s work to suggest that during parental illness, children are ‘writing’ a penultimate chapter (Fearnley 2015) about the illness. This is a prospective chapter and the quality of its content is dependent on the extent to which children are included in conversations and information sharing about the illness. The ‘writing’ of the ‘penultimate chapter’ is important in helping children make meaning from their current lived experience and helps prepare them in the writing of their final chapter about their parent. However, when children are not included in conversations they are then not able to ‘write’ a meaningful penultimate chapter about their lives with their ill parent.

I wonder whether as adults we are afraid to listen to children, are we concerned about what we might hear? Certainly in my research there was a sense that sometimes professionals (mainly from within health care) were concerned that they would be ‘opening a can of worms’ if they started talking to children about the illness. Other worries were that such conversations would take too much time or that they were not qualified to work with children. As one nurse said to me ‘I work with adults not children’.  These findings are congruent with recent research that again highlighted that health care professionals often felt that the children of patients were not their concern (Franklin et al. 2019). I wonder if there needs to be a shift so that professionals who work with adults also feel confident at least talking to children.

Recently my relationship with stories has taken a new and totally unexpected direction. After some years of trying to raise awareness about the importance of supporting children and families during parental life-limiting illness with the feeling of little success, I was encouraged to write a novel as a way of exploring some of the typical issues families and children experience during the illness. Our Family and IT is the story of an ‘ordinary’ family faced with extra-ordinary changes and challenges following the mother’s diagnosis of ‘IT’ an unnamed illness. I did not want to focus on one illness but rather on the social and emotional impact any life-limiting illness has on family life. I carefully considered the ages of the three children for maximum impact within the story; each family member narrates the story of their lives following the diagnosis. I have tried, based on my research findings, to tackle some of the important issues that families typically face during this health crisis. These include communication, identity, emotions, parenting and support. Within the book different dilemmas and challenges are explored, for example do the parents tell their children what is happening, how school and friends manage the situation and what happens to teenage boys when they are not listened to. And so with the publication of the book, I feel my relationship with stories has come full circle.  However, my opinion remains that as a society we still have some way to go before children are included, to the extent they want to be, in stories of dying and death.

For more information on Dr Fearnley please see here:  http://www.rachelfearnley.co.uk/

To buy Dr Fearnley’s book please see here: http://www.rachelfearnley.co.uk/http-www-rachelfearnley-co-uk/

Twitter: @RachelFearnley1

 

References

Fearnley, R. (2015) Writing the ‘penultimate chapter’: How children begin to make sense of parental terminal illness, Mortality20(2): 163 – 177.

Franklin, P., Arber, A., Reed. L., and Ream, E. (2019) Health and Social Care Professionals’ Experiences of Supporting Parents and their Dependent Children During and Following, the Death of a Parent: A Qualitative Review and Thematic Synthesis, Palliative Medicine 33: 49 – 65.

Gilbert, K. R. (2002) Taking a Narrative Approach to Grief Research: Finding Meaning in Stories, Death Studies, 26: 223-239.

Walter, T. (1996) A New Model of Grief: Bereavement and Biography, Mortality, 1(1): 7-25.

 

Adolescent Babyloss Experiences

Featured

Its been several months since I originally published this post and the response has been incredible. I’m very grateful to each and every one of the women that has participated so far.  For anyone looking for more information please read the following:

My PhD research is exploring the experiences of adolescents who experienced a gestnatal death whilst in secondary school.  Originally we were using the word “perinatal” but due to the fact that it is defined differently in various countries and organisations, I’m unable to use it for research purposes.  Instead we are using the word “gestnatal”, defined as: “The death of a human life from conception to 28 days’ post-birth inclusive.”

Gestational and neonatal deaths can be divided into two groups: biological (miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death etc.) and non-biological (abortion, therapeutic termination etc.).  My research is encompassing all gestnatal deaths because we are exploring the grief, social, and educational impact of the event.  My research design is split into two parts; firstly, there is a questionnaire to gather as much broad data as possible and I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to the women to who took the time to complete this questionnaire.

Secondly, interviews are currently being undertaken by me to dig deeper into the data summarised following the collection of the questionnaires.

The purpose of this study is to provide information on these experiences so that we can inform policy makers, teachers, medical professionals, school guidance counsellors etc. so that they can better understand and support these teenagers and subsequent women.

If you experienced a gestnatal death whilst in secondary school and are willing to be interviewed, or if you would like more information on this research, please email me at:  lloydca@tcd.ie

Once again, thank you to all the participants who have completed the questionnaires so far, and to everyone who has volunteered to be interviewed.

Miscarriage: Claiming the Narrative

It is with kind permission that I’m able to recreate the following:

Back in 1983, I found myself in an office toilet cubicle miscarrying a 14 week old foetus.  I had no idea I was pregnant because I was using birth control.  I had visited the doctor four times in the preceding two months, and each examination and consultation had resulted in a prescription for increasingly powerful pain killers.  I was given no ‘diagnosis’ or ‘treatment’ for whatever was ailing me.  Just a piece of paper for pills and sent away to just ‘get on with it’.  Despite the painkillers, towards the end, the pain was unbearable and the blood was uncontainable.

I walked to my workplace from the bus stop with blood running down my legs, thankfully it was winter, so I was wearing a long, heavy, dark coloured skirt.  I went straight to the ladies’ room.  The fact that I was in work, doubled over in pain, in shock, and possibly denial, meant that I just flushed my baby away and went to my desk to work.  This was pre-internet, so I returned to the doctor’s surgery several days later, was examined, and it was confirmed that I’d had a miscarriage.  I was sent on my way with a different prescription for contraceptive pills.

I was dazed and confused and wasn’t sure what to think or feel; it was an unplanned and unkown pregnancy.  When I finally confided in a friend a few months later, I was told it was a “blessing in disguise” because I didn’t have to choose between “ruining my life by having a baby at 18″ or having an abortion.  At that time, within my cultural environment, this was the narrative.  I was also told it was just a bunch of cells.”

I’m observing bereaved narratives on the internet over thirty years later as a PhD researcher, and whilst there are similar stories to the above that can be found, there has been a noticeable change.  Advances in technology have contributed to changing the landscape; home pregnancy tests allow women to find out they are pregnant almost immediately after an absent period.  With ultrasound scans available to prospective mothers as early as 6 weeks’ gestation, it is now common to see the growing foetus in utero.  These tangible factors allow prospective parents to see their baby; to formulate future dreams of what they will look like, what they will be like and what their lives may encompass, from a very early gestational age.  These medical advances, along with the internet (particularly social media), has changed the narrative in Western cultures almost entirely.

From an occurrence that was historically perceived to be the loss of a ‘bunch of cells’ and the common platitude of “you can always try again”, it is now common to post ultrasound scans on social media pages with the ensuing proclamations and public announcements of parenthood. Following a miscarriage, some of these women are now posting photos of their miscarried foetus’ as evidence of their loss, and as such, there is a growing movement to allow miscarriages to be registered as a birth.  The internet has opened up a dialogue where these women can claim their identities as bereaved mothers.  Within their bodies and their imaginations, these children were real, they existed, and their death is impactful.  Social media has enabled them to form support groups online, particularly within Facebook, and there is impactful peer support on Twitter such as #BabyLossHour.

Clearly not all women are online, not all women grieve a miscarriage, not all women welcome the news of an unplanned pregnancy.  But there is something empowering about claiming your own narrative and having peer support available, whatever that narrative may be.

As always, this content is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without my permission.

Death & the Maiden Guest Blog

Not only does Caroline Lloyd refers to Death and the Maiden as glamorous and cool (thank you Caroline!) she shares her personal and professional journey of grief. Experiences that became the motivation behind her new book: Grief Demystified. The book she wrote that she so desperately wanted when she had disenfranchised grief and had no idea that that was even a thing.

via The Grief Geek — Death & the Maiden

To read my guest blog on the Death and the Maiden website, please click on the link above, or here:

The Grief Geek

 

 

When grief is complicated but it is not complicated grief…

This is a letter written by a grieving daughter who would like to remain anonymous. She’s asked me to post this in the hope that it will help someone else in a similar situation.

Not all relationships are straight forward and ‘ideal’.  Ambiguous or complicated relationships can (but don’t always) lead to ambiguous or complicated grieving.  This is not the same as complicated grief which is different.

If you’d like to know more about why grief is so individualistic, or what complicated grief is, or have any other questions, take a look at my new book “Grief Demystified: An Introduction”:

Grief Demystified on Amazon

“Dear ‘Dad’,
I’m pretty confident you’ll be wondering why the inverted commas. Of the few communications I’ve ever received from you over the past 50 years, you have always referred to yourself as ‘dad’. My opinion is that the label has responsibilities and expectations that you have never demonstrated, so you are not worthy of that title.

Your daddy’s girl was left bewildered and devastated when you left without telling anyone when I was 6 years old. I thought I’d done something wrong and I was being punished. No-one told me any different. No-one talked about you, but I do remember your mother chasing you down the street with a bread knife threatening to kill you… that image pretty much sums up the memories of my childhood: violence, shouting, fear, neglect, suffering, confusion. I found out many years later, that you had left after coming home and finding my mother on the floor having taken an overdose of pills. I guess she couldn’t take your drunk or drugged up violence and the trips to the hospital any more.

I tried to get to know you when I was a teenager; I even emigrated to the country you were living in to do so. In hindsight, I was still seeking reparation for the ‘wrongdoing’ I had done that had ‘made’ you leave when I was 6. You rewarded my efforts by getting drunk every.single.night, vehemently denying everything you did that I witnessed as a child, and swinging for me with your fists. The irony of course is that to everyone else you were happy, generous and fun.

After trying and failing to build a relationship as a daughter with you, I moved countries. But you would get drunk and ring me to verbally abuse my life choices. I had sold out because I lived in America; you hated the country. I had sold out because I was the first person to go to university in the family; who did I think I was? I had sold out because I worked a lot and didn’t party like you; I was boring and ‘Americanised’. Eventually I moved and didn’t give you my phone number. After failing to build a daughter relationship with you, you wouldn’t allow me to even have an adult relationship with you.

The last time I saw you was when your beloved mother was ill, that was twenty years ago. You flew back to our home town to visit her prior to her death. I found out you were home because my mother received a phone call summoning me to a pub to see you. I went, as I always did; I never wanted a reason to feel guilty or accused of not being receptive to a relationship with you, even if it was on your dysfunctional terms.

After years of peace and quiet, you started sending me friend requests on Facebook that I kept rejecting. After a while your persistence paid off and I accepted you. But you never even say ‘happy birthday’ to me either publicly or privately.

I had to ring you 11 years ago to tell you that the grandchild you had never met was terminally ill. Your exact words are seared into my memory like branding on a farm animal, “shit, I’m having such a bad week, first an argument with my girlfriend, now this.” Your first thought was about yourself, the non-existent ‘grandfather’, you never asked about the three year old child that was dying of cancer, you never asked how your daughter was while she was watching her son die in her arms. Sadly, after 40 years of life, I didn’t expect anything else from you. That statement pretty much summed you up. I haven’t spoken to you since.

I hear that you have died. I had anticipated that at some point I would have to deal with your death and the ambiguous feelings that would arise. I was never sure how this would feel for me; would I feel nothing because we have a virtually non-existent relationship, or would I feel emotions because you gave me life? I have ambiguous feelings, which accurately reflect the ambiguous relationship we had.

They say your parents fuck you up, I would agree with that. But as an adult, you have the choice whether to maintain that status or change it. They may have given you a beaten up old car, but you sure as hell can choose to pimp that mother up. And that’s what I’ve done. So thank you for contributing to fucking me up, you provided me with an array of tools with which to understand complexities I may never have understood if I’d had two normal parents, a dog and a white picket fence.

One of those complexities is dealing with people who didn’t know you; those friends and your wife that you lied to about your past. They are sainting you online, sending condolences to the ‘family’ you never had any contact with, talking to you in ‘heaven’. Who am I to shatter their illusions?

That 6 year old girl will never understand why you didn’t love her enough to be her dad, and this 50 year old will always envy those that have a dad that loves and cares for them.

I did find a short letter you sent twenty years ago following your visit to our home town and the last time I saw you. It contained a photo of us together in that pub, and your words ‘all my love dad xxxxx’. It is the only tangible proof I have that you existed. It is the only tangible proof I have that you may have had some feelings towards me underneath that selfish persona. So, thank you for that, and for triggering some happier memories that I’ve managed to retrieve and receive comfort from.

I hope you Rest In Peace ‘Dad’, I love you now as I loved you then, because despite the pimping out, the bodywork always remains the same…”

As always, this content is copywrited and may not be used without my explicit permission.

Let’s talk about suicide…

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about suicide since the sad announcement of Chris Cornell’s death yesterday.  Most of the information provided is assumptive, and not based on research or statistics.  Here are some of the facts from the World Health Organization’s 2015 dataset:

  1. Suicide is not the most common cause of death; it is the 17th leading method of death worldwide.
  2. Suicide does not just affect young people; it occurs throughout the lifespan.
  3. It is not just men that suicide, women do too.
  4. Close to 800,000 die via suicide each year, with many more attempted.
  5. Suicide can be prevented.

Why is suicide different to any other death?

Suicide is different because the person who we love chose to end their own life prematurely. That sentence on its own is a powerful concept to process, as it throws up all kinds of questions and emotions. It also alters the way other people interact with us as grievers.

There are many reasons why bereavement can be different after suicide and they can include:

  • The questioning of religious beliefs
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Stigma
  • Denial
  • Absence of support
  • Silence
  • Other people’s perception or interpretation of the situation both pre death and of the death
  • Curiosity
  • Police involvement
  • Coroner involvement
  • Rejection
  • Heightened fear of genetics
  • But mainly “why?”

What are some of the reasons for suicide?

Aside from obvious mental health issues, such as drug addiction or bipolar disorder, that may lead a person to suicidal thoughts and actions, there are four psychological needs that need to be met, according to an expert in suicide, Dr. Nicola Tweedie[1] :

Thwarted Love;

We all want to feel loved, accepted, and that we belong.  If we feel isolated or lonely. or excluded from our network groups, this can lead to low self worth. Alternatively, wanting to belong to a displaced group e.g. where there is a spate of teenage suicides in an area, can be seductive.  The perception of joining them and becoming part of the group is a powerful attraction.   Suicide can therefore appear to be a solution i.e. “no-one ever loved me anyway, no-one will care” either as a result of exclusion or the desire to be included.

Fractured Control:

Most humans enjoy predictability, stability, autonomy and some order in their lives.  When there is a perception of no or little control, for example when we lose a job, are declared bankrupt, or divorce etc., suicide can seem like the only option to escape from the situation.

Assaulted Self Image:

In situations where someone has been bullied or subject to any manner of abuse, the resulting emotions can be shame, humiliation, or other associated feelings.  This can lead to the perception that the only way to cope with these feelings, particularly when functionally crippling, is to avoid them.  However if the emotions are too overwhelming, and possibly having a significant traumatic effect, suicide may be perceived as an escape route.

Excessive Anger:

Rage and hostility are associated with frustrated needs, and can lead to the ultimate act of rage against the human form.

Why is suicide different for grievers?

Van Derwal (1989)[2] identified the areas that are qualitatively different for those bereaved from suicide:

  • A prolonged search for the motive.
  • Denying the cause of death due to stigma and societal responses.
  • Feelings of rejection (both by the deceased and sometimes society).
  • Religious questioning.
  • They are more often likely to conceal the cause from others.
  • A heightened fear of a genetic /increased risk of suicide for themselves and their family.

How do we support those bereaved through suicide?

There is a simple answer to that question; in the same way you support anyone through a life event that is overwhelming and devastating:  with empathy, compassion, open mindedness & authenticity.  Just being there and/or listening is enough.

(Please note: The use of the word ‘committed’ with reference to ‘committed suicide’ is not particularly sensitive to the bereaved due to connotations of ‘committing’ a crime, particularly if the griever has a religious affiliation.)

For further resources see:

http://www.annemoss.com – a blog by a bereaved mother after her son suicided

http://www.Samaritans.org  – a helpline and support for anyone feeling suicidal

http://www.uk-sobs.org.uk – for support if bereaved through suicide

[1] http://finder.bupa.co.uk/Consultant/view/183553/dr_nicola_tweedie

[2] Van der Wal, J. (1989-90). The aftermath of suicide: A review of empirical evidence. Omega, 20, 149-171.

Grief Demystified..

Please see my previous post about why I had to delete several of my informational blogs. In the meantime I’ve been busy putting all of the information from them, plus a whole lot more, into a book comissioned by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
The book will be called Grief Demystified and explains everything you’ve ever wanted to know: do men and women grieve differently? why do we grieve for famous people? how do I know if I’ve grieved properly? and what to say to the  bereaved, plus many more questions answered.  It also includes a list of recommended bereavement organisations that provide online resources, offline support and signposting.  It also includes an extensive list of references if, like me, you are interested in furthering your knowledge in grief and bereavement from the experts.

And best of all- there are diagrams and photos for visual learners and the easily bored 🙂

I shall write more blogs soon about the myths that still pervade on social media, because I keep seeing misleading articles and outdated information…

#Life.WhatTheF#ckIsThis.Death

I was delighted to be invited to join the ‘cast’ of #lifedeathwhatever this week at Sutton House in Hackney to talk about my passion: grief following a bereavement.  I was excited for predominantly two reasons; 1. because ordinarily no-one wants to hear me bang on about theories and debunking the myths that still abound about grief, and 2. I wanted to explore the beautifully curated creative exploration of life and death that beckoned.

Sutton House is a National Trust property that is beautifully preserved, and the curators @anna_eol_doula and @poetic_endings have done an outstanding job of adding beautiful installations to it.  One example was a coffin playroom which consisted of coffins full of multi coloured balls for tactile exploration.  There was also an ‘all that’s left unsaid’ exhibition of cards with sentiments written on them such as ‘you said you loved me, you lied’ and ‘you should have knocked and asked to come in’.  This was also an opportunity to examine a pink hearse, drink death themed cocktails and eat a herb supper.

But enough of the interesting exhibition -never one to miss an opportunity, I’d like to share a brief overview of the content of my workshop with you.

The first part of the presentation was exploring the differences between intuitive and instrumental grievers (Martin & Doka, 2010) with specific personality types.  Whilst these are generalities, exploring the combination of variables gives rise to explaining why different people exhibit grief in different ways.  I’ve written about this at length in my book Grief Demystified, due to be published by JKP in 2017.

Secondly we had a discussion around the myths of grief.  ‘Are you over it yet’, ‘time heals all wounds’, ‘you can always have more [children] and the big one: the 5 stages of grief.  For those who are unfamiliar or haven’t checked Wikipedia.com lately,  the five stages of grief were identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross as the grief emotions experienced by those who were dying in the 1960’s, not the bereaved.  The model was later expanded by Elisabeth to encompass grief but she was very clear that the stages are not linear and not intended to be interpreted that way.  There are several more modern models of grief that are preferable to demonstrate the reality of bereavement.

Lastly we explored the impact of social media and how our digital legacy affects grieving. The consensus was that the immediate family should have control, and power of veto over who should post, and what content should be allowed to be published publicly.

For further information on this workshop or if you would like to chat to me about running one or attending one of my training courses, please contact me at thegriefgeek@yahoo.com.  I am always delighted to share this with anyone interacting with the bereaved, to the bereaved, or anyone supporting the bereaved professionally.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend a visit to http://www.lifedeathwhatever.com when the next one is running.  The exhibitions and events are life affirming and invigorating and are perfectly situated within an atmospheric and beautifully historic venue.

 

 

 

Death and Culture in York- My Thoughts..

I just wanted to return here to document some interesting ideas and information I gleaned from the recent Death and Culture Conference at York University. The conference was an interdisciplinary event involving a wide array of perspectives across the full range of death, dying and bereavement topics, but not excluding other related areas.  Here is a summary of my highlights from a varied and fascinating three day programme:

Dr Karina Croucher presented a very interesting talk about her partnership with Christina Faull of LOROS Hospice in Leicester on their joint research, combining archaeology and continuing bonds.  An unusual combination on the surface until she explains ‘I study the mortuary practices (i.e. the ways in which people reacted to death and treated their dead) in the past’ and then you realise this joint research is completely logical and will be fascinating when completed.

Brenda Mathijssen spoke on the theme of continuing bonds.   She talked about the wearing and retention of ashes and how these items, created from the remains of our loved ones, are so significant when we are initially bereaved, but over time they lose their significance.  The continuation of bonds that are so necessary for us to grieve, ultimately become transformed bonds- which reminded me of J. William Worden’s final stage of relocating the deceased.  Interestingly she stated that there is a 30 day waiting period in The Netherlands after cremation before you can collect the ashes.  Those 30 days are designed for thinking and processing.

Dr Heather Conway raised the issue that there are currently 3.5 billion internet users worldwide, so  consideration should be given to the legal aspects concerning our digital legacy.  There are many issues to consider: what is a digital asset and what expires at death, the etiquette of virtual cemeteries, digital wills, Facebook memorials, other social media sites and legacy or deletion decisions.  She asked; are digital companies sustaining the view of an afterlife, how are the hierarchies of grief affected, what about contested narratives, what should the virtual memorial rules be etc.

Chao Fang delivered a fascinating presentation on the advent of ‘Shidu’ or the loss of an only child in China.  Due to the government policy of one child per family, the death of a child has political ramifications that perhaps don’t exist in other cultures.  Additionally, older people in China are reliant on their children as there is little social support, so the loss of their child has significant secondary loss implications, including financial implications.  There is also a ‘shame’ in not having children in China, that makes them feel that they are ‘unable to face their ancestors’ after the death of an only child, and that this is ‘the most distressing thing ever’.

There were also talks that discussed the issue of the ‘social dead’ i.e. slaves in Capetown and Barbados. I wondered about the bereaved and their ability to process meaning making after such heinous events, but the focus was on the deaths and lack of memorialisation not the living…

There were also presentations about the sensationalism of murderers and the lack of narrative surrounding the victims. I wondered if I would welcome public reminders of my loved one if they had been murdered?

Lastly a special mention & thanks to Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce and colleagues for organising this event, it must have been a lot of work but well worth it – a fabulous time was had by all!