This time last year, as some of you may recall, I was writing my Dying to Know Day piece called “Musings from the Road”.....the "road" being the long road from the East Coast to Broome! A year on, so much has changed. For starters, I am writing from my home in Ettalong, with the blustery Winter winds and rain swirling about outside, with not a grain of Central Australian red earth in sight unfortunately!
My mum's wife did in fact die before we made it back to her on the East Coast last winter...but we did, thankfully, make it back in time for her funeral. Wasn't that a tear-jerker....with photos of my late Mum and her reaching deep into the well of grief that I now realise is never going to go away. People say "time heals all wounds" but I reckon it just changes them.
This Dying To Know Day I am pregnant. Pregnant with possibilities, dreams, and a 32 week old baby that is currently growing and squirming in my womb! How the circle of life continues....and in the most unexpected of ways. There have been no physical deaths in our family since my mum's wife's passing last year, but there have been many metaphorical deaths and transformations that definitely touch old wounds of grief and loss.
This year, some close friends have experienced the suicides of people dear to them...a sad and tragic reality that, as I utter these words, I fear some of you may find too "heavy" for a Dying To Know Day Musing. "Will Kerrie even publish this?" I find myself wondering. But the stark reality is, that if we don't talk about this stuff, we don't get the chance to flex our 'deathie' muscles...and discover or remember where our 'end of life' comfort zones begin and end. Instead we maintain the status quo...we keep the "taboos" tucked away in the dark corners where no one dare even glance for fear of even hinting at their existence...and for a few more days, weeks, months, maybe even years...we manage to pretend that death just aint ever gonna come knocking at our doors! Or at least no time soon.
As I grow my baby, quite frankly, I have a deep hurting and longing for my Mum...my Nan...all the ancestors who have come before me and who have since passed....some too young and from heartless diseases and some at ripe old ages from plain "old age" really. You'd think after eight years I'd be done with grieving my mamma's death. I am, after all, a mother myself...a real "grown up"....but some wounds just never quite heal over. There are constant "if mum was here now"s and the like...constant wonderings about what she might do or say in response to some of my life situations. And then on the flipside...it kind of still feels like maybe I never had a mum...like maybe I dreamt her up in my wild imagination! Consequently, death's existence never truly fades from my reality....
Why am I telling you this? Because death can come knocking when we least expect it. It comes in all shapes and sizes...sometimes unannounced and sometimes like a visitor you aren't particularly keen on, who just won't get the hint and stop popping on in for that cuppa and a chat! How does this reality shape and influence my life? In so many ways!
I am a 'deathie'...."end of life" is part of my life...and yet still it challenges me at times, especially when I look at my five year old and feel the life growing inside of me. Just yesterday my daughter and I were discussing death...I can't recall the context...but her response I do remember clearly: "Lets stop talking about this mummy cos it makes me sad". The reality is, many adults have the same response when their adult children, friends and loved ones approach the topic of death. But can we really go on in this vain, hoping that avoiding having the conversation means we keep death at bay? As Death Cafe's founder Jon Underwood said, "Just as talking about sex won't make you pregnant, talking about death won't make you dead" Isn't it time we had the conversation about what we'd like to happen if we found ourselves unexpectedly facing our own or a loved ones mortality?
Even if you can't bring yourself to have the conversation....maybe you could as a minimum start to contemplate the fragility of life...and at least start to THINK about what you want at The End. Not to weigh yourself down, but to wake yourself up! How many of us have left the house after an unresolved argument with someone we care deeply about? How many of us have resisted the urge to pick up the phone to call a loved one due to some outdated, unhealed wound that still exists deep within? And how many of us have put off taking action on something that holds deep meaning and great rewards for us and the people we love, due to fear of not succeeding or fear of what others might think? If we knew our departure date, would we still make such decisions? Would we choose to put off the important conversations? I like to think not!
At 42, I am likely halfway through my life. I confess, I still haven't written my Will (sorry Kerrie, I am a very bad deathie!!) but I sure as hell make sure that the people who hold great meaning in my life know how much I love and appreciate them, and they also know what I want to happen when I die, and that they are free to explore and share their end of life wishes with me too. I also make a point of not living hedonistically, but rather as "fully" as possible. Maybe one day I will get all the "paperwork" sorted and Kerrie Noonan will be one very happy lady....but maybe I won't! What I am sure of, however, is that I am going to keep on trying to appreciate the little things...doing those things that have been sitting on my "things to do before I die list" that I kid you not, I wrote when I was a teenager, added to in early adulthood, and constantly update. I am going to keep assuming that me and my loved ones aren't immune to that dreaded thing called "death" and so make the most of the time we do have together. If I was to die at the same age as my mum, I have 22 years left, and I know with every cell in my being that those years would fly by in the blink of an eye!
You could think that I am one of the "unlucky ones", left behind, brokenhearted and grief-stricken with more dead relatives than there are alive ones. Or that maybe I have an unhealthy infatuation with death. But really, the changes that death forced upon my world view (although admittedly I'd give them up in a nanosecond if it could bring even one of my beloveds back) are like a gift...and a legacy in some ways. This view I have of not waiting until I am retired to do the things I dream of...of not expecting my nearest and dearest to only die when they are "old" (whatever "old" means!)....or of thanking my loved ones for the great many gifts they bring into my world TODAY, whilst I can...therein lies the gift! And this 'making the most of my finite life' attitude, THAT's what I hope to pass on to my children and my much loved family and friends. And you know what...I LOVE that I have become the person that people call when they have tricky life-death situations to navigate....like an ageing mother-in-law contemplating her own mortality after a stroke...or a friend's father contemplating suicide because the quality of life he sees ahead of him is unbearable for him.
So what am I suggesting you do on this Dying To Know Day? If the "paperwork" just isn't your thing, and even if the end of life conversations are just unachievable for you just now, open your heart and let all those whom you appreciate and cherish know it! Take someone out to lunch. Send a bunch of cards thanking your loved ones for the gifts they bring into your world and the way they touch your soul. Have a think about that you want to DO v's what you want to BE between now and when death comes knocking on the doors of those whom you love and adore. Consider things like whether "travelling the world" takes precedence over BEing a kind and open hearted human? Or whether or not that old resentment really is worth holding on to? And is the money that the job you loathe pays really worth the days you spend at it? Maybe after you ponder these things...maybe...just MAYBE you'll be one step closer to being able to have "the" conversation....and maybe you will create or open the door for the people you love to consider their own values...their own priorities..and their own wishes for their end of life. Us Dying to Know Day advocates aren't asking miracles of you...we are just inviting you to take even one small step towards pondering your wishes....having the conversations..making the plans. And with tongue in cheek I have my fingers crossed that we'll all still be around next year to take another "Dying to Know Day" step in the right direction!
So whatever you choose to do this Dying to Know Day, may you be blessed with love and longevity!
Shamanic Wayshower, Artist,
End of Life worker
(previously Kim Ryder)
Belly casting and painting, henna tattooing,
.....and much MUCH more!
Ritual and Ceremony for all