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

Working with Death, Talking about Death, Listening about Death, Thinking about Death

I found myself yesterday having surrounded myself in death. I realised that I not only went to work at the mortuary as usual but also helped present a talk about end of life care, showed around a student nurse interested in our work, came home and listened to the Griefcast podcast, watched Disney’s Coco with my other half and prepared some Death Cafe materials.

Myself with the lovely Cariad Lloyd who hosts Griefcast, the award winning podcast available for download.

Death is pretty much my life now, and I really couldn’t be happier about it!

This isn’t the post I had planned over the weekend at all. I have been working on what turned into an epically long discussion of the harms of fat shaming in our culture. Every time we have a patient come in who is bariatric, or obese, or heavy, or fat, or whatever term you wish to use, I consider the harm in our society this reflects. Not the fact they have lived that way, but the damage and hurt caused to them by the nature of our fat shaming society. Especially after the recent news articles about mortuaries not being able to store the number of these patients they are receiving. I might still post it once I’ve tidied it up and edited it a bit. Let me know if it’s something you would find interesting and I’ll have a think about it!

Like I say above, I’ve spent Monday so far mainly talking to other people about my work. I assisted with some nurses training which I hope to one day present myself. We teach the nurses for an hour as part of their End of Life training, explaining to them about what the mortuary does and why. The most important part is how their job impacts what we do and what they can do to help us! I think the most discussed point of the sessions I have attended so far is that we ask for all lines and tubes to be left in the patient if they die. The reason for thing being it prevents any leaks or blood from coming out. It’s horrible to see a new patient in the morning who is soaked in blood because an IV line was taken out and not properly bandaged.

The nurse we have with us this week is here for four days. She’s lovely and been asking all the right questions. I really do love showing people my work, I find I can talk about it for as long as they will listen. It’s days like this I remember how lucky I am and how much I appreciate the opportunity I have to do what I do and learn what I learn.

Death Cafe in Upminster on Tuesday 17th July at 7pm at the Sweet Rose Cakery

Hope you all have a great week. Don’t forget that Death Cafe takes place a week today and if you can attend you are so very welcome! There’s tea, coffee, cake, snacks, wine, beer and death chats- what more could you want from a Tuesday evening?

MG x

Coco- Disney does Death

Coco is the new Disney Pixar movie that came out earlier this year. It’s explores the adventures of young boy Miguel who finds himself in the afterlife and meeting his deceased relatives. It’s full of Disney cheer, music and joy but with the obvious undertones of death and bereavement. When I first heard about this film, I was at the Death Cafe in November and I knew I had to see it when it was released. Part of my feelings around the Death Positivity movement include talking more openly and frankly about death. This includes conversations with family and with children. I don’t feel that we should hide death from children. I’m also not convinced that we should smother them in it either but there are practical ways of confronting this. The fact Disney decided to make this film and approach this subject is fascinating in itself!

Coco does go deeply into death, maybe a little deeper than some parents would be comfortable with. Personally, I’m not a parent but I feel that you would know by your child whether something will scare them unnecessarily. Or, if you cannot predict but you are worried they are too scared by something they have seen, should this not be the time to have a conversation and explore that topic with them to put them at ease? Children will develop fear and anxiety around certain topics but that doesn’t mean we should shied them from them.

An article on Gloucestershire Live written by a parent explained that his four year old daughter was clearly affected by the themes of Coco. He advises that it may not be for the very young and I can sympathise with this. However he does not explain if he spoke to her after or how he dealt with this, and I think that is a shame. I know as a young child, the concept from this film of being forgotten once you have died would have stuck with me and definitely caused a lot of thoughts. I already thought about that as a child, but maybe it would have provoked a conversation with my parents after having seen this film. Maybe.

The director has been quoted as stating that the movies they make are not for kids alone but for “for everybody – for adults and ourselves. We just make sure they’re appropriate for kids”, which seems fair. I think we’ve all, if you’ve seen them, shed a tear during the first scenes of Up or at that point in Toy Story 3 (you know which bit if you’ve seen it). A lot of movies have a habit of throwing in upsetting scenes but this this not part of why we find them memorable. Funnily enough, these scenes too have a theme of death about them, but is it that Coco is more obvious in showing skeletal figures and an afterlife?

Like with most of the themes surrounding this blog, whether it be death, funerals, organ donation etc., there are simply not enough conversations about them in my opinion. People shun from discussing the morose and depressing, but by doing so only create a taboo around a subject that at some point we all have to face or consider. I think these taboos create more damage to people than discussing them openly ever could. If by seeing Coco even a handful of children open up to their parents about their thoughts or even worries regarding death and, by doing so, become less afraid of a subject that can seem terrifying at a young age, then I am delirious this film was made! Well done Disney!

Just as a final note, yes I loved the movie completely and, yes, it did make me cry. Twice. Oh and I thought you might like to know I wore themed clothing because I am that kind of nerd. Huge thanks to Laura T for accompanying me tonight, for crying in those bits too and for also buying me a massive ice cream. You’re a brilliant human being.

Thank you all for reading! Go see the film if it’s your kind of thing.

MG x

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑