An Introduction to Dying Matters And The Dying Matters Awareness Week

A year ago or so, Rachel and I were getting excited and nervous about hosting our first Death Cafe. We have come so far since then and I’m so proud of us for approaching our year anniversary! The reason why we decided to host the event in May was to coincide with the Dying Matters Awareness Week 2018. I’m sure I explained at the time what this was but I would like to do so again for all the readers I have gained in the past year.

Dying Matters (www.dyingmatters.org) is an organisation which can only be described at massively death positive. It spans England and Wales, encouraging people to discuss more openly death and dying, alongside all the bits associated. Every year, they host an awareness week where events are held across the countries to highlight the chosen theme of the year. Many organisations such as hospitals, hospices and libraries get involved and host all kinds of events.

For 2019, the theme is Are We Ready? and focuses on the fact we should be talking about death well before we have to or are forced to. We should have made plans well before we die and it’s not something many people know how to do. Hence, this year’s awareness week is the perfect opportunity to get involved and find out more.

I’m pleased to say I’ll be involved in the events at my place of work, hosting my own regular Death Cafe and also helping out at another Death Cafe for another NHS organisation for staff members. At BHRUT there will be two days, Tuesday the 14th at King George Hospital and Thursday 16th at Queen’s Hospital. There will be many stalls with chances to speak to representatives from many places such as funeral directors or hospices and also a Death Cafe between 12.30-13.30 each day. I’m so excited to see what this week will bring and what people will discuss at the events. I’m also attending a few other events myself at other venues which I will update you all on after. It’s set to be a fun, death filled week for me and I can’t wait!

If you are interested in these events or would like to know more please get in touch!

MG x

Self-Diagnosed True Crime Addict

One place I know I can relax is the bath. Baths are like therapy for me, and tonight I’ve had both. A session with my counsellor, and a bath which I’m now trying to relax in and forget about my day. It seems the Tuesday after a four day bank holiday weekend is enough to get me back to square one feeling overwhelmed by all things life. A combination of work things out of my control, and life things fully within my control are causing that buzzing in my head that I’m pretty sure led to a panic attack in January. Never been so thankful for NHS prescriptions than tonight. Long story short, I am grateful that I am neither ashamed to discuss the fact I have regular counselling sessions nor that I take medication for my anxiety, and nobody else should be ashamed of anything like that either.

If only I was a cat and could relax like this

With that done and said, let’s talk about my week so far! Why when it’s only Tuesday? Well it’s been eventful already! The capacity issues I was convinced we would not have at work absolutely proved to me to be naive and not understand the possibilities fully. Never again will I underestimate a weekend and trust it to be quiet because the weeks preceding it had been. Lesson learnt, always be prepared that a whole lot of people could die at any time and have a plan in place for such an occasion. Feeling quite foolish but I will not feel that foolish again because I will not make the same mistake twice!

Tonight I should have revised a bit and done some work but I really wasn’t in the headspace to do so. Instead I listened to one of my favourite true crime podcasts then watched a fairly sensationalist documentary about the Grindr Killer. Firstly, if you are a podcast listener and love true crime please check out Crime Junkie. It was recommended to me by Laura T and it’s great. Alongside this, a new podcast started recently called Murder Squad which is also just brilliant. Make sure you check these out if you would like to! They both are in a similar vein where they explore a murder or series of murders and then ask the listeners to do some investigative work if they think they can help. I’ve noticed there’s a new realisation that the public can be one of the best assets in crime solving so I’m loving these two. Sadly they do American crimes and I can’t do much from here but I can dream.

So the Grindr Killer, you say? I have a big interest in this case because it’s so local to where I live, I feel like I could have at least walked past these people on the platform at Barking station in 2014. If you would like the full story it can be found here, however in summary in 2014-15 a man from Barking in East London killed at least four young men in a series of murders hence he is now known and the Grindr Killer. Via a method of overdose with the date rape drug GHB he administered this to the four known men and then covered them up as either accidental overdoses or suicide. There is a rather brilliant BBC documentary if you can find it about this, the one I saw tonight was on the Freeview channel Pick and was a little less brilliant but still interesting. The thing I find most interesting is the fact that he was not caught sooner and it really raised issues with the police surrounding the treatment of these deaths.

I’ve really become the True Crime addict as of late, reading books about serial killers, listening to podcasts about murders and watching documentaries such as this. Obsessed? Me? Quite possibly!

For later in the week I’m working on a Dying Matters post so keep an eye out for that one, have a great four day week and if you’re struggling know that you’re not alone.

MG x

Thoughts After The April Upminster Death Cafe

Something that a lot of people tell me is that I always seem to be busy. I fully acknowledge that this is mostly true. Somehow, one way or another, I find it harder to organise chill out evenings or days for myself than events! Please don’t think I am complaining, I feel very lucky for having got a career I love and I can arrange things in my spare time which add to this.

We had a very successful and enjoyable Death Cafe on Tuesday which drew three new attendees who seemed to have a great evening and a number of regulars turned up again. I love the fact people keep coming along and that we still have new people who are interested and want to find out more about it. Some previous events have been quite intense and others very lighthearted, the one this month started off quite heavy and ultimately became a lot more cheerful through people sharing funny stories about what has happened to them relating to loved ones dying or through their own experiences with death. I think this summarises something perfect about death, yes it is a horrible time for us all and it will always be an unpleasant thing but there are funny and happy moments that we will remember and can share which make it easier. One thing that came up was people’s strange reactions to death and the unexpected things people do, which included my Mum and I sharing how a friend of my Nan’s when she died who only seemed interested in asking if he could have her television only a day or two afterwards. I remember being furious at the time, but it also serves as a ridiculous story we can now laugh about, the actual audacity of someone to ask if they could take her not exactly expensive or start of the art TV!

I am really please to announce that my Death Cafe hosting has meant that I have some great events lined up for Dying Matters week 2019. More details of these will follow! One thing I wanted to focus on today was the point of Death Cafe and to try an encourage people who may not have been previously to try and attend an event. I think it’s important to point out that a lot of people ask me about them but are sure that they would have nothing to contribute. Trust me when I say, everyone has something to contribute. You might not think discussing death is for you, but we have all either been affected by death or we have thought about it in our lives. It is also something that will, with certainty, happen to us all.

One question I get asked a lot is what the typical Death Cafe attendee is like. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a stupid question but there are ones that are difficult to answer and that is one of them. I think it is fair to say that there is not a typical attendee at all. Another question I am asked is if it is worth it, and I trully believe that anyone can get a lot out of the experience. I mean it when I say that if you have any questions or are curious in any way I would like you to get in touch and we can discuss it. I started the Death Cafe in quite a selfish way, to talk to other people about my passions and interests but I think it is a wonderful thing that has grown into something I love doing through seeing other people enjoy the experience too.

You can see what events are lined up for Dying Matters Week in your area at the webite www.dyingmatters.org or you can research Death Cafes in your area via the postcode search at their website www.deathcafe.com. The details of the Upminster Death Cafe event for May can be found here https://deathcafe.com/deathcafe/8531/.

MG x

Asbestos & My Week

I’m sat in the dentist waiting room once again while I write the bulk of this. My teeth get an awful lot of attention, mainly because they are truly awful. I dread to think the amount of money I have spent on them over the years, and the countdown to my impending wisdom teeth removal is under a month now.

Well where do I start otherwise? It’s been a very interesting week so far. Returning from a holiday is always hard, it can only be made harder by finding out the rest of the team are on leave or are sick so you’re the only one available to work! It took everything I have to remain positive and not feel under pressure but I’ve made it through the week so far! Luckily our other trainee came back on Tuesday so we’ve been running the mortuary between us for two days with some help from other members of staff from across the hospital. It’s been a real learning curve but a great experience for us both to put under our belts.

I’ve completed my revision cards for my exam like a nerd, and when I do revision cards I don’t mess about. Thanks to Laura D for the awesome pretty cards, I’ve created a beautiful set of hopefully memorable information. Little sad cat faces poking out are where information was missing or needed, what else would I possibly use?

In other news, I’d like to talk a bit about asbestosis. Why? I guess it’s something that comes up quite a bit at work and it feels like it’s a bit of an unfamiliar thing for a lot of people. We all know that asbestos is bad, and are quite used to hearing things like ‘then they found asbestos!’ or ‘poor soul, exposed to asbestos’ but do we really know why or how?

If you google asbestos the first thing that comes up is a claim lawyer. Then a company who can safely dismantle and remove your asbestos. Then a link to an asbestos safety course. This pretty much sums up the current asbestos world. It’s unsafe, it needs removing and there’s big money in it.

Asbestos is a combination of naturally occurring minerals which form as crystals. It was mined and used in abundance in the 20th century for being strong, soundproof and protective of heat, fire and electricity. It seemed like the in thing to have and use. It was only later that people realised the fibres of these minerals were incredibly easily inhaled, and could causes terrible illnesses later in life including forms of lung cancer. It is a well known fact that if a husband was exposed to asbestos, the wife could have inhaled asbestos too from washing his clothes and therefore suffer from the same illnesses.

The illnesses associated are mainly known as asbestosis or mesothelioma. Asbestosis is a scarring of the lung which can cause the function to be severely impacted, giving the person a tight chest, shortness of breath and a cough. This can lead to other complications including cancer, one of which is mesothelioma. The effects of these I have seen in people is a build up of fluid around the lungs known as pleural effusion, and pleural plaques which appear as solid white or cream areas on the surfaces of the chest cavity and diaphragm.

We do tend to live in a world know where sadly if there is a blame there is a claim. Going back to my original point, the first link you get on google is a claims lawyer. Claiming for asbestosis is popular and rewarding if proven, but often the forms of cancer described above do not appear until decades after exposure. Asbestos is widely banned across the world, although some countries like Russia still regularly produce and use it.

Things like this always make me wonder what will be the next thing we discover isn’t wonderful after all but actually very damaging. It’s my hope that the rigorous testing of products now can only help reduce things like this happening in the future but also things do slip through and are only found years later.

MG x

You Can Escape Life, But It’s Hard To Escape Death

I had a lovely holiday and a pretty perfect week away from everything apart from the fact I couldn’t tear myself away completely from Twitter. Turns out not knowing what political drama is befalling the UK is worse than knowing it at the moment, however I have reached a point where I can not despair entirely and at least see the funny side to some extent. Yes it’s awful, but I have accepted I have no control over just how awful this mess is going to turn out.

In other news, Lanzarote is beautiful. It’s perfect for a place to forget about life for a while and temporarily adopt a couple of cats. I think I was in my element there, sitting about reading some great books while sipping on the PG friendly named Love on the Beach cocktails and not at all getting a tan worth mentioning because my paler than pale skin simply doesn’t tan and that’s that.

My adopted cats for the week

I made it through I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara in about two days, I really couldn’t put it down. It is the gripping story of her search for a serial killer who raped and killed numerous women in California in the 1970s and 1980s, the whole thing pieced together from partial book chapters and articles after Michelle died in 2016. The last part of the book is written by two of the investigators who carried on the search after her death, and you might remember that last year they actually found him and he was arrested under DNA evidence. It’s a great book, which jumps around a bit but has to be given a huge amount of license to do so considering the nature of how it came together and how it was not written in the whole by one author.

I also read I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell which is a series of short stories describing seventeen brushes with death in her life. It made me think of the few times I’ve felt like I’ve nearly died and is a good read. After that I read Under the Knife by Arnold van de Laar, a really fascinating book looking at a huge range of surgical procedures and how they came about, developing in to what we do today. I found the chapter on prothesis and knee replacements really interesting as I know my Nan had one before the change in practice in the early 2000s and one after that, meaning for the first she was bedridden and rested for a good while after and the second she was up and about fairly quickly. I feel I have to discuss with her when I next see her what she felt was better! My non-death related read was supposed to be The Summer Book by Tove Jannson, the Finnish creator of the Moomins who I adore. I can’t avoid death. This book is largely about the relationship between a curious young girl who’s mother has died, and her aging Grandma. Within the first few pages of the book she asks her Grandma when she will die and all in all it is a beautiful story of a summer on an island exploring life through themes of understanding death and other people. Oh and there is a chapter about a cat. It’s like she wrote that book for me, honestly.

We met some really nice people on our travels, both the locals and the other tourists were all friendly. To start with, Ryanair flights now seem to be like your first day at school because they make you pay to have the seats you book next to each other, and hardly anyone does. So inevitably you end up with one or two people next to you who you’ve never met before. Friendly people chat, not so friendly people plug in earphones. On the flight over I had a really nice woman on the left of me and another on the other side who seemed to ask to move quite quickly and left a seat empty. We could only surmise that the latter was not chatty and didn’t like the idea of two chatterboxes next to her for four hours, which was fine for us because we spread out and had a good old chat. The woman I was chatting to worked in the NHS in mental health care and we soon got into discussing our jobs and which was the hardest (we both thought each others seemed harder), she explained how people are sectioned or held under the Mental Health Act to me and I explained the post mortem process to her. If anyone could overhear us I honestly think they would have wondered what on earth was happening but it was a great flight! No such luck on the plane home, I had two silent ones either side so I read my book and got into an argument with the attendant about a chicken salad sandwich I had paid for but didn’t receive until two hours later.

Two further things I would like to mention that seem relevant. One day we hired a motorbike and did a lap of Lanzarote exploring the sights and the roads. I wanted to go to the Cactus Garden because why not, not really knowing what to expect other than a whole bunch of cacti. The place is amazing, with all kinds of cacti in all shapes and sizes. When I say sizes, there were cacti there taller than most trees which standing next to I could not help pretend to be in the scene from Coco with the giant papaya and cactus dreamt up by Frida Kahlo for her show.

Frida cactus and the Cactus Garden of Cesar Manrique

Secondly, one night we caught up with some television from back home and caught the episode from the new series of Derry Girls where a relative dies and they all have the wake at her house with the body in an open coffin the room. There is a scene where they all crowd around the coffin and the ‘wee English fella’ James gets very freaked out by the fact they are all just standing around a dead body while all the girls just stand there thinking he’s being weird. It’s a very awesome nod to the huge differences between the death practices here in England and in Ireland/Northern Ireland. Certainly something I would love to explore in the future if given the chance, maybe exploring the difference between England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland!  

The wee English fella isn’t very comfortable with death it would seem

Normal service shall now resume on here and Twitter, those who follow me on Instagram know that I never stopped on there just carried on posting annoying photos of cats and food. If you don’t already follow me on social media, I can be found @mortuarygem and as always if you would like to get in touch please don’t hesitate.

MG x

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