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

The Book of Life, The Good Place & Kensal Green Cemetery

The first half of my week off was fairly slow but I had a really good time nonetheless. I’ll not lie, Monday and Tuesday was mostly spent catching up on boring housework and the necessary things we all have to do. I may have also spent some time sat on my bum watching tv but I think that’s allowed!

I watched The Book of Life on recommendation from friends after I wrote about seeing Coco last week. I loved this movie too! It was a similar kind of idea and theme, but a different style on animation and a little more fun adventure than a tear jerking tale. I can thoroughly recommend The Book of Life too to those who haven’t seen it.

The Book of Life

I also managed to watch pretty much the entirety of The Good Place, all bar the final episode of which is released on Netflix tomorrow. The Good Place is a series which follows Eleanor Shellstrop (played by Kristen Bell) who finds herself deceased and in a strange place a lot like what we think of heaven. It has two seasons on Netflix and if you like a light hearted comedy with some dark undertones and some lessons in morality then give it a go!

The Good Place

Yesterday afternoon I headed to Kensal Green cemetery in North London with my friend Laura D. Kensal Green was the first of the large Victorian cemeteries known as the Magnificent Seven. These cemeteries were built in order to counteract the inner city overflowing and bursting grave sites that were causing numerous problems. Kensal Green was established in 1833 and now covers 72 acres.

The front gate at Kensal Green

From first impression, the cemetery is incredible. Imagine a huge mausoleum with a big iron door and then imagine it’s surrounded by a dozen others on either side. In some places there are grand graves squished up together so tightly there is no space between them. There are newer, smaller graves squeezed into gaps here and there so that navigating through them is a challenge. At one point I found myself apologising to whoever might be below my feet because I was traversing through trying to see some of the commonwealth war graves. Other areas are more open and spacious, it rolls around gentle hills and large structures loom about left right and centre. One on side there is a canal which you can see through a fence with pretty canal boats taking residence. At the front gate is a little hut with a fluffy and friendly black cat hanging around, of course I took the time to say hello to him!

I always make friends with the cats I see….

The cemetery is a wonderful place. We found ourselves discussing poignantly if it would be right that a cemetery like this should or would become a tourist attraction of a sort? We saw a couple of other people walking about, may have had something to do with the temperature and time of year however, but other than that we were the only people there. Although, it did feel like they didn’t want to attract people like us who want to wander about and have a look. There was no clear way around or indication of where the more ‘famous’ graves were, Isambard Kingdom Brunel is there somewhere but goodness knows if we could find him in the maze of graves, mausoleums and headstones!

Gravestones as far as the eye can see!

I guess it would be frowned upon if people flocked to a place such as this. Interestingly, John Loudon who famously designed Brompton cemetery (another of the Magnificent Seven), inspired the design of many others and who wrote about the cemeteries of the time is buried at Kensal Green. Laura D and I have agreed to try and visit all seven this year, some of the others are more challenging for various reasons but we will give it a go!

As always, if you have any thoughts on anything I’ve discussed let me know. 1/7 down, I have been to two other the others previously a long time ago now but I’ll happily revisit them. Watch this space!

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

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