Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Life, death, and bubbles in between

Yesterday I chatted about death, dying, and funeral photography. I celebrated end of life traditions and cultures that shape our memories with Golie, a stunning, intelligent PhD student who shares my curiosity of preserving moments of time, fragments of grief, and the beauty of the human spirit.
Calling into the bottle shop to buy a bottle of champagne to toast to our future King, the third in line, a baby in arms: “A bottle to wet the baby’s head” I exclaim, to the confusion of the young attendant and his mate.

‘What is it today with saying that?” he demands. “Everyone’s been saying that all day long, I don’t get it,” and clearly, he doesn’t. “It’s beautiful that so many of the community want to share this special day” I explain, “You don’t really wet the baby’s head, it’s just a saying,”  and I leave him clearly muddled.
It’s hard to pass on a generation of tradition if the kids are plugged into Ipods and earplugs. They aren’t interested and it’s a worrying trend. How can you ignore the past?
Once home I send my friend a dit. Come and share champers, wet the baby’s head!

Within five minutes she tramps up my stairs, flashing her trademark smile. “Thought we should wet the baby’s head” she says, explaining that her message bank service wasn’t working but she had a hunch I’d open champagne. How well she knows me.
A good day is when you celebrate life each day. A great day is when you can reflect equally on death, and the continuation of life and royalty, with bubbles.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On royal Births, and death bombing

With the world waiting for the birth of William and Kate’s baby, I wonder if the young prince will stay overnight in the maternity hospital with their new baby, once born. It reminds me of my own birth experience at Boothville Mother’s Hospital, Windsor. Since closed, it was run by the Salvation Army as not only a “home for single mothers” but also as a natural Birth Centre for low-risk mums-to-be.

In the late 1980’s – long before social media existed, Boothville was welcoming new dads into the labour room and encouraging them to stay the night.  It was the only way dads could become involved in the care of their child, and help as added support to the new mother.
When my own husband would visit me at 6am and then reluctantly return to our empty house, I said to my doctor: "Help! He’s exhausting me."
The hospital was under constant threat of closure due to low patient levels, and Dr Charles Elliott suggested I push for a family room to be added to the hospital, as a way of attracting families.

As hospital closure loomed over our heads, we passionate supporters began a five-year marketing campaign and a relentless promotion to engage the public and tell the story of “Brisbane’s Best Kept Secret”.

On the Private Hospital Board with me were two young women and now lifetime friends; Christine Jackson and Fiona Guthrie.  Together we well-intentioned birth consumers began what is now taken for granted in some hospitals: the father stays overnight, bonding with his new family. Two special family rooms were created, and many young couples made memories and a healthy, loving start to their family life.

Recently a young friend delivered her second child at the Royal Women’s Hospital, and her partner stayed overnight. I wondered if she knew the story of my own husband, and what an ongoing  effect it had on her own relationship, 27 years later!  If the London Paddington Hospital has no family room perhaps Kate might just Skype Wills from her bed?

I understand that a special reclining chair has been requested so that William may rest, no doubt exhausted from his own shouting of Push Latey Katie, push!  Giving birth has evolved to become a social gathering of friends and family with Twitter updates and the obligatory selfies for Facebook.

With television shows such as Call the Midwife, or reality show, The Midwives, it’s easy to see how birthing has evolved from an isolated young mother and her doula, to a more social occasion, shared with birth photographers, support people, and friends.

At the other end of the spectrum of birth, is death. Will we see a rise in death- support people as we age?  The days of dying alone or with only close family may be limited.

I heard author Jesse Blackadder  telling of a ‘third person involved with assisting and supporting my mother’s passing’. 

It seems this friend became involved and helped family to bury personal grievances before they buried their mother, so to speak.  She gently allowed each person to spend special time with their mum, before she passed. Sometimes families need that extra person.

As ageing Baby Boomers are used to creating their own traditions, death might become a passive spectacle, viewed with bored family texting Facebook updates: “No change yet, breathing still regular”.

A new tradition may emerge: Death-bombing. Just like Photo-bombing, described as: “An otherwise normal photo that has been ruined or spoiled by someone who was not supposed to be in the photograph.”

Death-bombing might be the art of overstaying your death-watch welcome, witnessing your loved ones passing, all in the name of being social.  Added family members might have good intentions, but their very presence disallows others to have quality one-on-one time to whisper messages and make memories with their immediate family.

Sometimes death demands privacy, not an audience, with many oldies refusing to go until the family leave the room.

It’s a time that can never be re visited, so perhaps a neutral Death Warden; aiding and directing death-bed traffic, to ease family congestions and smoothing the path towards the Light, might be the birth of a whole new industry.