Death Café has been presented and offered at different festivals before. This was Colourfest’s first Death Café and my first time to run one at a festival, so I was so delighted to be hosting this one. This festival is described as “A dynamic, beautiful & constantly evolving gem of a gathering celebrating life through connection, ceremony, yoga, dance, music, art, theatre & playfulness.”
I was scheduled for Friday and Saturday. On Friday twenty people or so arrived; the indoor venue room that we were scheduled to use was not appropriate to use and I was asked to move to the tiny bar which was in fact too small. Unfortunately, a couple of people left and or didn’t stay as they popped in, whilst the others were ok to continue in the compact space.
I began with a minutes silence to remember those who have been before and then followed with an introduction of myself and how death cafes began, the purpose of them and then an encouragement to discuss any aspect around death and dying. I suggested that the conversations could be held in small clusters of about 3 to 4 small groups. I provided a selection of herbal teas as I thought this would be the most simplistic method along with some biscuits.
In essence, there was a mix age range and I think the majority of people had never been to a Death Café before, however, it was well received and the conversations were flowing freely. Some had experienced a close family member or friend dying and were recounting their experiences of that time and others had no first-hand experience, however, it seemed that all wanted the opportunity to be in a discussion group around death.
A question was posed re mediumship versus the soul being reincarnated and how can the two approaches to the spirit or soul be both? Another spoke about their experience attending a funeral in Thailand for a local person and the cultural difference, in which gambling at funerals seemed to be a cultural given and part of the ritual and in addition lighting of string fire rope which travelled the site and finished at setting the cremator/body alight!
Near the end of our session, a woman said that she was inspired to start a Death Café in her own area, which is very positive indeed.
In the lounge area close to the bar and dining room I had put information leaflets from Dying Matters & Marie Curie and had a blackboard up with part of a comment: ‘Before I die I want to …. ‘ with available chalk to use. On my return, the blackboard already had a few statements written on. The following day the blackboard was full of interesting comments, however, it also had graffiti of a penis on it, which I felt a little disappointed by.
For the death Café itself, I managed to secure the dining room which was far more spacious and I felt drawn to stay in one large group, as the numbers were small, however more people drifted in and the number exceeded over 23 / 25, despite this we remained in the large group as people already had begun to introduce themselves.
Saturdays Café was also lovely. I believe nearly all except one had never attended a death Café before. Those who attended were pleased this was taking place or intrigued to be discussing death and also there were a significant number of people who were in grief, in particular, one with a recent and unexpected sudden death and another with a longer term grief. Hence there seemed to be quite a bit of sadness in the group generally along with intrigue and interest. We also touch on euthanasia and the seemingly insufficient end of life training that Doctors receive. For both sessions, I ended with my usual minute silence to complete.
In conclusion, the cafes were a good call to be on the festival programme and I hope there will be future opportunities. Colourfest is a delightful festival with a beautiful energy. Death is part of our life cycle, therefore to include Death cafes alongside inspirational, healing workshops and the general festive spirit is a welcomed aspect to be in the mix.
In November I had re-written my Will, which, on this occasion, was professionally written by a solicitor. Previously I have done DIY Wills bought from the Post Office or a High Street shop. l update my Will roughly every five years or so and as I was aware of the Will Aid Scheme, I thought that I would do this update as a comparison. Will Aid is a scheme that is available every November, where one can get a Will written for a donation of around £95.00. Will Aid is a partnership between the legal profession and nine UK’s charities. Every November, participating solicitors waive their fee for writing a basic Will. Instead, they invite clients to make a voluntary donation to Will Aid – They suggest £95 for a single basic Will and £150 for a pair of basic ‘mirror’ Wills.
My new Will details/wishes were more or less taken from the previous Will that I had written, as I brought it in to discuss. The only significant change to note was writing the addresses of those that I want to benefit from my will. This was advised to be written in the Will, rather than on a separate piece of paper, and it proved helpful as I became aware that I didn’t have all the addresses.
In conclusion, if you have a fairly simple Will, which I did, then DIY Wills is no different and just as legal. In England and Wales, the legal requirement is that the will is signed and witnessed by two people present. In Scotland, it only needs to be witnessed and signed by one other person.
If you are over 55 years old you can get a Will done for free. Under the scheme called Free Wills Month. The Scheme takes place every March and October and is backed by Charities, however, be prepared for your solicitor to ask if you would like to leave a donation to a chosen cause when you die, although you are under no obligation to do so. The towns and cities taking part in Free Wills Month vary each time the campaign runs. Visit the ‘Free Will Month‘ website during March or October and enter your postcode. You’ll be given a list of participating solicitors close to you, which you can choose from to arrange an appointment.
However, it’s simple to write a will, particularly when using guidelines from DIY Wills or from the opportunities of a solicitor as noted above. Its worth noting that all Wills become invalid if you get married and it’s wise to update your Will regularly. The most important message that I can offer is DO WRITE A WILL, this allows your wishes to be granted as you would want and your funeral wishes too. We often change our minds or viewpoints so rewrite your Will or funeral plan regularly to reflect this.
In 2009 Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative carer wrote an online article in her blog called Inpirational and Chai, which gained so much attention and went viral she then put her observations into a book called ‘The top 5 Regrets of the dying’ this was about her time working with dying people. Bronnie “developed close relationships with her patients during their last weeks which resulted in raw, honest conversations about life and death, including what the patients wished they had done differently.”
Bronnie says that “People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.”
When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret. “When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made”.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This came from the many male patients that she had nursed. “They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men she nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence”. This may also be connected with income and falling in the trap of keeping a level of income..
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. she says that many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result”. I feel the body does indeed respond to emotional, psychological beliefs, distress or suppression.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying”.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
“Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
So when thinking about these regrets , we can learn from others who have gone before…..and take the opportunity to change our lives now; how we relate to others, how we are in the world, how much time we spend at work, particularly work that we may not enjoy. Being able to express our fears, wants and desires and boundaries in a respectful way…having meaningful connections, staying in contact with those that matter. We can have an impact and influence on all the above 5 aspects of our lives and we do indeed have choices. We can choose a happier existence now and fully engage in life before we die. Have death as your close advisor.
This weekend, 3 & 4th June 2017, I attended a beginners level 1 and 2 Gong workshop, this was a practical workshop with Preet Kaur who is an accomplish player and kundalini yoga teacher. Her teacher is the renowned Gong master Don Concreaux, Kundalini Yoga Teacher.
There were only 2 participants on day and 4 of us for day two. My intention was to get a connection with my gong and to get the most potential with the gong.
Experiencing and benefits of Gong immersion
‘A Gong Immersion is like a very deep and lasting massage, by tuning the physical body and soul to the greatest possible resonance. Usually laying down on your back, receiving the sound energy of the gong as it is being played moving through the nervous system opening, clearing and recharging the whole mind, body and spirit. Triggering a meditation, contemplation state in which we have the opportunity to relinquish control of the mind. Negativity and chaos are suspended, irregularity and resistance are cleared, and the whole being is reset to a state of synchrony and alignment.’
We tuned in as a group each morning and afternoon and focus on our individual intention. which is always good grounding for any group practise or session.
The gongs available to play this weekend were 2 Paiste Gongs, which were the symphonic gongs 32 inch and a planet gong, Venus, 24 inch and I brought my inferior chau gong, 20 inch, which is bronze alloy made of 77% copper and 23% tin. Paiste gongs have more nickel silver to a formula of 63% copper, 25% zinc and 12% nickel, so the sounds are richer and vibrate more in my opinion.
Some of the Paiste gongs have the traditional Chinese Tai Loi symbols ‘Happiness has Arrived’ which I liked and these were on the 2 Symphonic gongs here, one can ask for these symbols to be placed on the gongs when you buy them. We used various sized mallets, the smaller the mallet, the higher the sound and the bigger, the lower the sound, of course mallets have an energy and Preet described this as the ‘Will of the Infinite’
Below are some quotes about the history and benefits of receiving gong playing:
The existence of the Gong dates back to the Bronze Age, around 3500 BC. ‘Evidence suggests that the Gongs existed at this time in Mesopotamia. Myth has it that sacred gongs included pieces of meteorites that fell from the heavens. Since the time of Buddha in 600BC, all sacred Chinese gongs have been inscribed with the two Mandarin Chinese characters “Tai Loi”, which means “Happiness has Arrived”, sweeping the darkness by bringing in the Light. The gong ancient use was as an initiation tool for enlightenment, etheric projection and exorcism of negative spirits. It has also been used by Tibetan monks, and the Chinese, for centuries as an aid to meditation.
Historic research provides us with four main centres – Burma, China, Annam, Java – at least 7 gong shapes and sound structures stem from these regions. Only few families knew the tradition of gong making as it was passed from generation to generation. The art of making gongs was veiled in a sense of magic. Gong makers believed that a gong could only succeed with the help of higher powers, and that they were exposed to forces more so than ordinary humans.
The gong was an important element in the lives of Far East people and is still in some countries today. In Asian families, the gong was an attribute of wealth and served as a status symbol. In rites, the gong was used in the evocation of ghosts and in the banning of demons. Touching a gong brought you fortune and strength. In rituals of the Far East, the gong has retained its special significance to this day.
As a musical instrument, the gong accompanied celebrations, funeral ceremonies, songs, and theatre plays. In the music of the Asian high cultures, the gong was used as an orchestral instrument. Orchestras with gong plays containing up to 18 notes were not seldom. They were also played in private concerts at residences.’
‘The Gong is like a stargate from which brings in a vortex of energy which facilitates our connection with the infinite higher self. Creating a synergy effect bringing the listener to know the oneness of all effortlessly, while recharging the body and strengthening the nervous system all at once.’
During the weekend we covered a few stokes as a structure but of course when one plays one goes into intuitive playing and let go of the structures.
To begin with we would connect with the gong by priming the gong or waking the gong, tuning into the gong and tuning in with some reverent way for ourselves and those in the room..The playing stokes covered over the weekend were the individual gong strokes-stoke up, stoke down, flam, Tie, Vach Choir, Tsunami, Swinging door, flumi playing, roll stroke, Gong with the wind, penultimate stroke and ultimate stoke, these were easy to grasp and gave me basis tools to connect and experiment with the gong.
The Gong has the most powerful ability to affect the nervous system, it is powerful, subtle, sound affect vibration and clears thought, it can get passed the ‘monkey mind’ and get one into the neutral mind where healing can takes place.. the still point where space and therefore wisdom can be received. Gongs can be relaxing, stimulating and sometimes over powering, but usually one is left feeling refreshed, rejuvenated. People maybe become tearful which is normal where at a cellular level, memories can be cleared through the gong e.g grief
People may laugh, people may become energetic, blissful, relaxed and joy, so an array of emotions from anger to sadness is all normal and sound access these for what is required at that given moment or what is evoked.
I thoroughly enjoyed my two days, it was informative, I felt connected and got a deeper understanding of the power and healing properties of the gong and a relationship that I want to deepen. I realise that I will in due course want to upgrade my gong to one that has a fuller sound and potential of depth of a healing vibration. I felt very inspired indeed. Below is a quote that summed up the weekend:
“The Gong is the first and last instrument
for the human mind, there is only one thing
that can supersede and command the human mind,
the sound of the Gong. It is the first sound in the
universe, the sound that created this universe.
It’s the basic creative sound. To the mind, the sound
of the gong is like a mother and father that
gave it birth. The mind has no power to resist
a gong that is well played.”
Yogi Bhajan, Master of Kundalini Yoga
Finally I will close with this, ‘Sound plus intention equals Healing’ this was said a few times over the weekend which I already was aware of and one that I focus on whenever I do sound baths and healing sessions, a good mantra to have and practise.
Goodbye my lovely Grandad, I bid you fond farewell,
Glad I had you in my life, so many tales to tell.
I’m glad I got to know you, never wanted to let go,
But I know that I was lucky to get the chance to know.
I’ll always store and treasure the memories you have made,
I’ll do my best to make you proud, and try and make the grade.
I’ll know you’re watching over me, every hour every day,
And that you’ll always guide me, and help me on my way.
So thanks for being there for me, even though the time was short,
But the lessons you have shown me, and all the things you taught.
Will guide my life and show me, I know what’s wrong and right.
And I know that you’ll be watching me even though you’re out of sight.
I believe that we will meet again, time passes in a flash,
And when it’s time to face you, into your loving arms I’ll dash.
So even though I’m sad now, sad to say goodbye,
I’ll do my best to make you proud, and hold my head up high,
Forgive me for my tears, but they come along with grief,
But I know it’s only normal, and brings me some relief.
So thank you for your guidance, I really am so glad,
Proud and oh so happy, to call you my Grandad.
I am a member of Home Funeral Network and HFN hosted their first conference called Funerals to Die For- That Won’t Cost The Earth, this took place in Oxford on November 4th 2016. It was a day of informative talks, inspiring stories, good workshops and included a film. The speakers were Jerrigrace Lyons, Professor Tony Walters, Dr Ros Taylor MBE, Josefine Speyer, who was a founder member of The Natural Death Centre and Claire Turnham, and others. Dee Ryding, funeral director and celebrant, introduced the speakers and facilitated a Q & A session with a panel from members of the Home Funeral Network. The energy for the whole of the day was really buzzing and positive, it ran smoothly and the packed community centre was energised and people had a positive experience.
The morning and afternoon were scheduled with talks and presentations and during the 2 hour lunch break there were crafts workshops to participate in and the film ‘a family undertaking’ was shown. I’ll write a little about the most inspiring speakers for me, however the whole event was just lovely, informative and inspiring.
Dr Ros Taylor MBE is the current National Director for Hospice Care. Her talk was called Immortality and all that jazz. She is a leading figure in the hospice and palliative care sector with more than 20 years experience of both providing and championing quality, person-centred care for terminally ill people and their families. she gave an dynamic talk… with sign posting to Jose Saramago book ‘Death at Intervals’, Steven cave’s book ‘Immortality’ and she recommended Sheldon Soloman’s You Tube clips… She spoke about one of the barriers to talking about funerals is death anxiety, that death and our fear of death affects our behaviour and she will asked patients what’s important to one if time is short? and the need to promote self esteem as an intervention.
Professor Tony Walter talk was titled Is the Funeral Industry fit for purpose?”
Tony Walter is a sociologist who writes, lectures and consults on death and society, and tutors on a course for funeral celebrants. He is Honorary Professor of Death Studies at the University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society of which he was the director from 2011-2015. I have seen Tony in action before at a CDAS conference, so I was looking forward to his talk…
for more information see: http://www.bath.ac.uk/sps/staff/tony-walter/
Tony’s talk was indeed the most inspiring and slightly controversial, he was saying that in the 19th century when people moved to new industrial towns, they did not know where they fitted in and often they bought the ‘hard ware’ as Tony put it, to demonstrate family status and respectability.. later in the 20 and 21st century many more people felt more secure in themselves and funerals became minimalism, then funerals became personal, mainly looking back, celebrating the life of the departed. He proposed that there are ‘hardware merchants’ and this structure needs to change and is unfit for purpose. Tony was suggesting that even the independent funeral directors need to be mindful that they dont fall into the business of selling the hard wear too, as he felt this was indeed the case. – he ended with saying that we should perhaps be contracting with the ceremonlist before the hardware merchants and to have the ceremony at the heart of things. He advocated for do it yourself funerals, and maybe an aspect of cutting the cost would be to side step the hardware merchants and take the body straight to the point of disposal and possibly approach crematoriums as the main contractor ? I liked his input and fully agree that cost must be lowered and others such as a ceremonalist/ death midwife could take the lead.
Jerrigrace Lyons, is a Founding Director of the educational non profit organisation, Final Passages, based in California and Internationally known as a pioneer and teacher in home funeral guidance and family-led death care services. Jerrigrace is a death midwife, minister, author and educator. Since 1995 she has supported hundreds of families with their family directed, home funerals.
Claire Turnham is the Oxford based Founder of Only with Love, who supports home and family led funerals and is Chair of the Home Funeral Network. She is dedicated to empowering and guiding families to tenderly take care of their own. Claire is recognised as a leading home funeral guide, independent celebrant and natural deathcare educator.
Claire and Jerrigrace talk was called Returning Death Care and Funerals Back Home, and they discussed the movement of home funerals – and the need for a modern term for people to connect with – the term ‘home funeral’ was decided upon..their talk was interesting and they included personal experiences of supporting families.
Above some pictures of some of the craft/ creative sessions, weaving , making lanterns and felting.
The focus of the day was for the general public to discover the choices available, to consider aspects of Home Funerals, to connect with professionals, and hear the stories of people who have found their own ways to say goodbye. It gave some practical guides to dealing with death, dying and bereavement, through a compassionate, informed, natural approach to deathcare, and for some introduced the idea of home funerals and the role of death midwives and celebrants. The day was a success, I enjoyed meeting new people and familiar faces and I am so looking forward to next year’s conference.
A Late Lark Twitters From The Quiet Skies – W. E. Henley
A late lark twitters from the quiet skies;
And from the west,
Where the sun, his day’s work ended,
Lingers as in content,
There falls on the old, grey city
An influence luminous and serene,
A shining peace.
The smoke ascends
In a rosy-and-golden haze.
The spires shine, and are changed.
In the valley shadows rise.
The lark sings on.
The sun, closing his benediction,
Sinks, and the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night-
Night with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep.
So be my passing!
My task accomplished and the long day done,
My wages taken, and in my heart
Some late lark singing,
Let me be gathered to the quiet west,
The sundown splendid and serene,
On the 18th September 2016 on a Sunday afternoon, we held our third cafe, in the top floor at Coffee Zero in Glastonbury high Street. the numbers were quite small this time only 6 people, so we sat together in one group. Three people had travelled from Bath…. themes for the afternoon …. one person spoke about his near death experience as a child, what was fascinating about the story was that he said he was no longer a child as he was witnessing his child body… we spoke about community connections and how we get help and support when one lives alone with no particular family support in our lives and went onto to speak about End of life Doulas and what they can offer.. and about the need for more open discussions around death and dying.. and advertising the death cafe here a bit more vigorously.. I had forgot to place an advert in the local free Oracle paper which has a lot of readers… it felt like another successful event and I’m looking forward to hosting the next one in two months time. The cafes that I run alternate from a Sunday afternoon to a mid week evening.
Celebrant, Celebrant, what is it you do?
I’m a little old fashioned, and haven’t a clue.
Celebrant, Celebrant, what is it you do?
Are you religious, or is that taboo?
Who is your target, where is your goal?
I’m a little confused, as to what is your role.
Are you religious, or the atheist sort,
I’m a bit in the dark and need to be taught.
Well let me enlighten, I’ll try and explain,
I’m there as a person to try ease the pain.
It isn’t about me or any belief,
I try help the loved ones to help with their grief.
There’s more than two options, to help people through,
So I’ll try and explain, what us Celebrant’s do.
We take an approach, with a personal touch,
For loved ones in need of the help for a crutch.
Some aren’t religious, but still want a prayer,
Or even a hymn, and we’re happy to share.
It just shouldn’t matter in our belief,
We’ll use an approach, that helps bring relief.
So each service it varies, and that is our aim,
Each service is special, and no two the same.
So as you can see, it’s not black or white,
We offer a service that we just try make right.
Right for the person, who’s life has passed on,
And try help those hurting, as they loved one as gone.
We tick all the boxes, some people say,
We try make it special, in our own unique way.
Times are a changing, changing so fast,
We must try move forward, not stuck in the past.
So, we are here when you need us, give us a try,
Just take a look, there’ll be one close by.
Written by Gwyn Davies
On Sunday 15th May 2016 I went with a small a group of people to visit Higher Ground Meadow, a natural burial ground situated in Corscombe. The family ownx 130 acres of land, where they had farmed sheep; now approximately 12 acres are currently used as the burial ground.
This is a family-run business, and Jo Vassie kindly showed us around the grounds in a 2-hour tour, her son has come into the business and they now also offer a very respectful funeral directors’ service with their mortuary at a nearby site.
As you can gather from the name, the meadow is situated high up on the ridge and has stunning, far-reaching views over Dorset and Somerset.
We were first shown the barn: a beautiful indoor gathering place which has large windows looking out onto the fields and seating capacity for 100 people. It has a log burner as the main form of heating and holds the bier, a beautiful wooden cart upon which the coffin or ashes can be laid and transported to the chosen plot. However, people can choose not to make use of the barn and do the whole of the service outdoors.
The hay meadows are cut once a year around September and baled, they consist of natural, native wildflower meadows. There are also small woodland patches in which Jo insists that only native trees are planted and the grass around the trees is managed similarly to average grass cutting.
The beautiful burial plots are left and become fairly flat, blending into the shape of the field. Most plots here are left unmarked, but otherwise a tablet of oak with a brass name plate can be laid or set in flush to the ground.
Jo informed us that the land is kept in trust so will not be sold off. Recently the Vassie family has asked for planning permission to create a neolithic- style burial mound and indeed will be receiving visitors from the Planning office the day after our visit. This seems quite an exciting project and I believe there is a successful tomb in Wilshire that was opened last year. Ashes are laid in small shelves inside the tomb-like chamber. I hope they are successful in gaining permission; the structure will likely become a small unobtrusive grassy mound in another section of their field.
I was impressed by the care and attention that has been put into this beautiful burial ground, the tour was informative and * would have considered a natural burial ground for myself, however, I co-own a private plot of land and have already planned my final resting place.