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

Introducing The Beautiful Natural Burial Woodland at Herongate Before I Disappear

And I’m done! My self-imposed assignment deadline achieved, they are all complete in draft waiting for review when I get back from my break. Work is done for a week and a half. As of tomorrow I’m not checking my emails or messages, I’m avoiding Twitter and Facebook too. We all need a break every now and then, and I’ve finally accepted that my time is now.

How else would you think I would relax other than under a blanket and surrounded by cats

Before I go, please remember the next Upminster Death Cafe is on the 16th April at the usual time of 7-9pm at the gorgeous Sweet Rose Cakery. Also, put in your diaries the Dying Matters Awareness week in May from the 13th-19th. I’ve got a few things I’m planning or involved in that week I’m very excited to announce soon.

13th-19th May Dying Matters Awareness Week

April 16th Upminster Death Cafe

The last thing from me for now is I’d like to show you some lovely photos I took on a recent visit to Herongate Natural Burial Woodland. The woodland is in the making, with lots of juvenile trees planted and plants sprouting. I loved so many things about it, the major one being the fact it is so peaceful. By having strict rules around what can be on a grave, the team there are cultivating a perfect place for those wanting to avoid the fuss and grandeur of a more traditional burial site. In it’s simplicity, it is a beautiful and more spiritual place to me than any other cemetery I’ve visited. If you are nearby, I can thoroughly recommend having a little wander.

The Office

The Lake

An Individual Grave

Trees planted and the woodland forming

I can’t wait to visit over the coming years and see this place grow into a stunning site

Please still feel free to message me or email me while I’m away on my break but don’t expect a reply before the 8th April!

MG x

Announcements, Goodbye Daisy & Some Thoughts

I have a cold. I’ve tried hard to ignore it but my cough is actually exhausting now. My poor immune system has really taken a battering this year, I’m feeling so very run down but that’s not my announcement. I would like to warn you all now that I will be scheduling in some Mortuary Gem downtime coming up starting the 28th March and ending 8th April where I’ll be back and firing on all cylinders hopefully. It’s not that I need time away as such, but I do feel the need to remove myself completely for a short while for my mental and physical health. I will spend that time mostly reading books for pleasure which I haven’t done in a long time!

The first on my my reading list!

It’s been a calm week in the mortuary so far, but a busy one otherwise. We had our March Upminster Death Cafe yesterday which we muddled through with my cough, Rachel’s sinusitis and me forgetting the crucial name stickers I always use! It was quiet as a lot of people are unwell or busy at the moment, but I think we had some of the most poignant discussions we’ve had in a long time talking over the topics of the recent violent crimes around our local area and the suicides in the media of high profile individuals.

Goodbye Daisy

We also discussed a book that was shown to us by our regular attendee Becky. The book is called Goodbye Daisy and is to help children and children with learning disabilities process the death of a friend. It’s a wonderful book that can be purchased here, I can thoroughly recommend it as it really made me think about some new perspectives on dealing with death. I also love the fact Daisy loved glitter and I’d chosen to wear my glitter boots that day. It was better than coincidence! Our next Death Cafe is the 16th April, please get in contact if you are interested in attending.

Daisy loved glitter so would have loved my boots!

My final thought for my midweek catch up is suicide. There’s been some events and media coverage recently that has really got me thinking about it. I would just like to say that there are always people who can help, even when you think you might be completely alone. There is always hope, even when you feel utterly hopeless, and there are always other options even when you feel like you have none. Please share and use organisations like the Samaritans and Mind who are there to help and solely exist for that purpose. You are not and never are a burden to them. Take care of yourself and those around you because you really cannot know what people are going through in their own minds. Please be kind.

MG x

How Splenunculus!

Doesn’t it sound like something completely amazing and fabulous. I think I will refer to anything wonderful from now on as splenunculus! It’s actually a little thing that the human body can do, where the spleen doesn’t form in the usual way and creates a little tiny accessory spleen. That little guy is called a splenunculus. Cool right?

A tiny accessory spleen, or splenunculus if you will

Another crazy busy week spent filled with anxiety about not getting enough done while actually doing an awful lot. On Tuesday I attended a talk with Laura T where Dame Sue Black was interviewed about her life as a forensic anthropologist and about her book. It was a fascinating talk which I enjoyed, even if I don’t always agree with her opinions on certain aspects. I can’t lie, her book I had borrowed from Laura D and has been on a huge pile I’ve mentally noted as ‘to read at some point or another’. I now have my own copy which I can place there so at least I can give it back!

Terrible lighting and a poor attempt at an arty photograph

It was my turn in the post mortem room this week, most notably was the day that I spent asking people if they could smell poo on me. Sometimes certain smells, no matter how much you scrub, just won’t come off. Luckily no one actually said they could smell it, so it would appear it was one of those times the smell has just kind of got stuck in my nose (for want of a better term!) and I could smell it only myself. At the same time, I had quite a difficult evisceration to complete but gave my best shot at doing the three block technique and the pathologist seemed quite impressed. I then mistook a rather large spleen for a liver later on and I think she stopped being impressed with me at all.

Outside of that I’ve been cracking on with my assignments for my course, sneaking a bit of typing or reading whenever I can. I’m aiming to have them all at least in rough draft soon so I can feel a bit more chilled about it all and focus on some revision for the exam in May.

As part of my Health &. Safety assignment my camera roll has been filled with amazing photos like this one of a fire extinguisher

Rockstar the cat was back at the vets this week, he had to have four of his teeth removed as he’s an old little chap and they had rotted. That all happened a day after I had a visit to another East London hospital to find out that I have to have my four wisdom teeth removed in May. I’m not really happy about the fact I’ll be having my first very general anaesthetic too. Not very splenunculus at all.

Post-teeth removal Rockstar cheekily lying on all my reading material for the evening

Next Tuesday is the March Upminster Death Cafe which I hope will be a good one. Have a lot of people who have been in touch. The April and May dates have been confirmed which is great too. I was hoping to be involved in a project called Departure Lounge which is upcoming in May and June but sadly I can’t make the training dates. However I have just been asked to do a talk to some junior doctors about evisceration in September which is very exciting!

Death Cafe is next Tuesday!

That’s all from me for now, hope you have a splenunculus weekend!

MG x

So You’re Dead… Were You Prepared?

I think one of the biggest things I seem to metaphorically bang my head against the wall about is the fact people have no idea what to do when someone dies. Culture appears to have, for the last several decades, really tried to put people off discussing death. Especially with our nearest and dearest. In very simple terms, this means as and when people do die, those left behind are very much left at the mercy of those in the business and trust them to do the right thing. But what is the ‘right’ thing that needs to happen? Well in reality there is no right thing, there is only what people truly want and often this is not what happens.

In the past, undertakers have been very good at recommending what should happen to us after we die. They sell plans aplenty to the ageing population and service the bereaved left with the task of arranging funerals for their loved ones. The problem I have with this is two fold, they sell plans that often are not quite as clear and straightforward as they seem and they are selling funerals to people at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. I am in no way saying that all undertakers are money grabbing vultures, but they have become very good at making a lot of money out of their businesses that’s for certain. I do see a lot of very honest people working in the profession too, newer businesses starting up with clear and simple upfront prices that don’t bamboozle the grief stricken.

There really is only one way of combatting this and that is to arm ourselves with the knowledge we need to make an informed decision. The best time to do this is well before we are in a position to have to make it, well before the emotions involved may take the wheel and steer us in a direction we wouldn’t normally choose. Haste is not something you would want to have when deciding something very important like this.

Personally I think just having a think about what you wouldn’t want is a start. Would you rather be buried or cremated? Would you like neither? Do you even know what other options there are? Do you want flowers or think they’re a waste of money? Would you like people to wear a certain colour other than the standard black? Do you know what your family would want? What they could afford once you are gone?

It’s a matter with so many involving factors it’s something that needs to be discussed. One thing I think is the least helpful is something I have witnessed a few times at work when a deceased loved one has told their next of kin ‘I want as little fuss as possible and as little as possible spent’. This rules out the expensive but easy funeral director route and leaves a lot of people scratching their heads. The issues here is, it can be done for very little when done yourself but do you really want to be finding out how at that stressful time or know well in advance what needs to occur to make it happen. I hate to say I told you so, but the death anxiety in our culture has made this so very hard and it’s only damaging ourselves.

If I have one piece of advice it’s to do some research. Have a think about it. Approach the conversation with someone close to you. I promise you this can only be a help for a time when you either can’t or don’t want to do it.

MG x

The Smelly World

What an odd week it has been. I can’t deny that I’m very aware of how often I say that but it has been a very odd week. I won’t go into too many details but it’s noticeable the nicer weather is having an impact on the deaths around here, and by that I mean they appear to be decreasing in numbers! I’ve said that and next week will be busy now, but that’s always the way it seems.

On Wednesday I headed with Laura D to The Vaults festival at Waterloo to see Dead End, a play about death (or so it advertised!). Honestly, I don’t mean to be cruel and I did find the play very funny in parts, but it had little relevance to death in the whole. It’s set in a graveyard of a church, it would seem that there is a body found at the start, and it is hinted that there is a real feeling of grief and bereavement in one character that is never really explored. I can only say it seems a shame that they could have done a lot more with the subject, however I did appreciate the leaflets spread about the seats before the play started pointing the audience in the direction of sources of support for anyone experiencing similar feelings. I have attended the Vaults before and this year I was pleased to see they have joined with St. Thomas’ Hospital to discuss death and bereavement, a great way of reaching out to people!

I gave the usual Care After Death training to the nursing staff this week, crammed more people than usual into the smaller of our two mortuaries and went through with them what we do there. It’s really pleasing to see these numbers of people attend (because people want to be there I hope and not because it’s mandatory training!). It’s so important people across the hospital understand what we do and don’t add to the myths and mystery surrounding the mortuary.

Unfortunately spring time does have one impact on those that have died. We get a little influx of decomposed people. Putting it in the nicest of ways, as the weather warms up these people are often found easier because of the smell. It’s a good job we took a delivery of what I call smelly sand, but officially known as Odour Neutralizing Granules. It’s wonderful stuff you can put with people who have, well and odour about them, and it helps to keep the smell down. I wanted to share the slogan on the bottle because I think it’s wonderful!

“Saving you from a Smelly World”!!

That’s all from me this week, I’m keeping very busy with my coursework and other things. Thankfully not feeling overwhelmed just yet, but I’ll try to keep that feeling away for as long as possible!! Also, a belated Happy International Women’s Day to all the women out there, I celebrated by going to see Captain Marvel which I cannot recommend more highly if you’re stuck for what to do this weekend.

MG x

So You’re Dead…. Where Are You?

Everybody knows that one day we are going to die, sorry to break that to you if you didn’t. However we usually never know when, how, why or where that will happen (that Uncertain Certain I wrote about previously). ‘Where’ is a big issue amongst the dying industry of late because it would seem more and more people are dying in hospital. The reason this is an issue is because most people would, when asked, choose to die at home. A lot has been discussed on this topic in the media recently, and I think this has a lot to do with the death positivity movement and the move towards a form of ownership over our own deaths.

If you thought that was a discussion around your spiritual location as opposed to your physical one, sorry that’s not really anything I know or discuss very often. I usually get asked on a regular basis if I believe in any religion, the answer is no. I also get asked if I believe in ghosts, and the answer to that is a shrug of the shoulders and I’d tell you that I don’t really know.

Back to your physical body. Chances are in the current circumstances you will be likely to die in a hospital. Either as an admitted patient on a ward or in an emergency department or A&E. I can only use our hospital as an example but when this happens the patient is ideally moved within four hours of death to the hospital mortuary. The porters transfer the patient who is then moved to a fridge space accordingly. During their time in the mortuary they might move around, only within the confines of the mortuary but they could be taken out of the fridge for a viewing, post-mortem or both during their time with us. Occasionally there might be a need to move people to contingency spaces which are slightly smaller than normal so small people are moved to make spaces in the average sized spaces. If their length of stay is anticipated to be lengthy then we may also move people to our freezer, or for other reasons.

If you die at home, you pretty much have three possibilities. If you require further investigation or a post mortem then you would go to a mortuary either public or in a hospital. If you don’t, then you go straight to the funeral directors, or via a combination of discussions you could remain at home until the funeral. Many are not aware that this is a viable (or believe it to be a preferential) option but it is available if you would like it to be. It is actually becoming more common that people arrange funerals themselves without involving a funeral director which would also involve the deceased being at home for some time unless they are at the mortuary for longer until burial/cremation.

I think the point of this post is to inform that there are options and you do not need to be dictated to about where you die or where you end up once dead. The only aspect there is no choice behind is whether or not you need a coronial post-mortem, if the coroner decides that you do then this must be enforced. It is important that people think and discuss these, if only just to be aware and be able to be informed of a decision needs to be made. I don’t believe in people being dictated to in death just as you would not accept it in life.

If there’s anything I have not covered or you would like more information then please get in touch!

MG x

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑