"Putting Down the Spoon" with Vicki Barry


Vicki is a self confessed "end-trepreneur" with a passion for educating people about their choices and rights with the hope that we all get the best ending in life possible. Here's some of her incredible story. Enjoy.

Over the years I have become increasingly concerned about the medicalization of the dying process, the unrealistic expectations of treatment to prolong life, and the reluctance of healthcare professionals and families to engage in meaningful end of life conversations. I'm also disenfranchised with the funeral industry here in WA which seems intent on maintaining business and death care practices as usual at costs exceeding the national average.

I faced the prospect of my own death at 17 as the result of a car accident where I sustained burns to 17% of my body. My dad was admitted to hospital a few days later and diagnosed with cancer. We spent his last Christmas in hospital together. He died a year later on the anniversary of my accident. That same year, the friend who rescued me from the car only seconds before it exploded was killed in a motorbike accident. These collective experiences of death and loss were profound, especially at this stage in my life. It made me realise just how precious life is.

My advice would be to contemplate your own death while you are well. If you get the opportunity to be with someone who is dying take it. Don't be afraid. Also, be reminded that each time you suffer a loss, whether your job, a friendship, a pet, moving house, divorce, whatever... these are all deaths, and yet life goes on. One door close and another one opens. One life ends and another one begins. That is life.

Recently I had the privilege of actively participating in the washing and shrouding of the body of a deceased Muslim woman. The Islamic funeral practice is as natural as it gets. The custom and rituals of the process are simple, respectful and well directed so that even the uninitiated like myself can undertake the assigned tasks with ease. I was amazed at how quickly the shroud was 'ripped' to measure and the seven cotton pieces laid out in readiness for the washed and dried body. An absolute delight to witness and partake in the process from start to finish.

I'm passionate about bringing death and dying back to community so we are more involved in caring for our loved ones at end of life. There is a beautiful expression, "putting down the spoon", which in times past signalled to family and community that one was at the end of life. Feeding would cease, funeral plans would begin, and people would visit to say their goodbyes and pay their last respects to give closure. Death and mourning were very visible in the community.