Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New Legislation Restricts After Death Care

Many thanks to Richard Chin of the St. Paul Pioneer Press for his wonderful article of Oct. 14, “Keeping them close, one last time." We received positive feedback for the information about our family washing and dressing Diane after she died and accompanying her body to the crematorium.

A follow-up article by Richard Chin the next day focused on changes in Minnesota state laws, effective in August 2007, that make some of the experiences recounted in the “Keeping close” article illegal. These laws concern the preparation, viewing, and transportation of a body. All of them restrict the participation of family and friends in after-death care.

One change, for example, limits home viewing to immediate family members. If Diane had died today, only her husband Bill, children, and siblings would be able to view her unless she had written the names of others who could participate. Bill and Diane’s grandchildren, daughters-in-law, sisters and brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, and dear friends would all be excluded without this document.

According to the Pioneer Press article, the force behind this legislation is the mortuary industry. As Jessica Mitford described in shocking detail decades ago in The American Way of Death, death is big business, and mortuary professionals have lots of influence.

As more and more people are taking care of their dying family members at home, it is interesting to see the legislature erecting roadblocks to after-death care of loved ones. Those of us who view death as a natural family event and not a medical emergency and who believe that families should be able to chose the extent to which morticians are involved will need to challenge this new unnecessary and intrusive legislation.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Holiness of the Everyday

Last weekend my sister Vicki, Nancy, and I attended the 26th Annual Women & Spirituality Conference in Mankato, MN. Diane and Bill Manahan attended this conference many times during the 30 years they lived in Mankato. This year’s keynote speaker was Marge Piercy, author of 17 novels and several books of poetry. She spoke of the importance of transforming the language of the sacred since traditional prayers and liturgies ignore the holiness of the everyday as well as the experience of women. Images of shepherds and sheep may not be meaningful to people who have never seen a shepherd or a sheep!

Acknowledging the sacred in one’s day is also part of living fully and consciously. For example, appreciating the warmth of the partner lying next to you bed, the geese flying in V formation as they prepare to fly south, the pre-washed salad greens in our refrigerator, Bill raking the leaves, the copies of Diane’s book handed to a postal clerk and winding up in California days later.

In the spirit of acknowledging the holiness of everyday life, I want to pay tribute to our new garbage disposal. It feels miraculous to push table scraps down the kitchen drain and have them ground up with the flick of a switch. Thank you, to Vicki, for getting us used to your disposal last month in California, and to Bill for revealing that not having a disposal was the only thing he didn’t like about living with Nancy and me!


Friday, October 19, 2007

Tom at the Center for Grief, Loss and Transition

Last week Nancy & I met with Tom Ellis, the executive director of the Center for Grief, Loss and Transition in St. Paul, MN. It’s a nonprofit organization that offers therapy and education for complicated grief, trauma, and life transition. Tom has recently published a book called This Thing Called Grief: New Understandings of Loss. (Insert link www.tomellisbooks.com). Besides being full of wisdom and anecdotes from Tom’s therapy practice, this book offers practical tools for dealing with life’s blows.

Sudden, unexpected death, such as that experienced by the Twin Cities recently in the collapse of the 35W bridge over the Mississippi, involves much different challenges than death from illness or old age, when people have time to prepare, complete life and relationship tasks, and say their goodbyes.

Tom and the staff of the Center for Grief, Loss and Transition are doing wonderful work in Minnesota. Visit their website at www.griefloss.org.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Miraculous Shift

Nancy & I made a big decision last month. Our inventory of Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully: A Journey with Cancer and Beyond was getting low so we needed to print more books. But how many—2000? 3000? 4000?

As we edged into a five-figures price tag (we pay all book production costs), we gulped hard and put off the decision. Then Nancy talked with a friend who was part of her Living in Process training group. Carolyn said, “You know what I’d do? Print lots and give a bunch away. It’s the best way to spread the word.”

In a flash we knew that we should print 4000 and give books to agencies dealing with cancer, illness, living consciously, dying, and grieving. We (mostly I) had been so hung up on needing to break even on publishing the book that we (I) had forgotten the most important thing: Diane’s message of inspiration and hope. What better way to share Diane’s wisdom than to put the book into the hands of people who work with the ill and the dying!

We made the decision a week before we were to leave for California. With only one book event scheduled for our ten days there, the trip hardly seemed worth the effort. (One planned radio interview had fallen through.) Within 24 hours of deciding to donate books to agencies, three events sprang up.

My sister, Vicki, let us know that a class at the California Institute of Integral Studies was interested in a visit from us. We met with the teacher after we arrived, and that evening we spoke about Diane’s cancer journey to her Integrative Health Sciences class.

Next the program director of the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Oakland invited us to visit the center. She also told us about the Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic. We left a copy of Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully with each agency.

And, finally, we learned about the Bay Area Breast Cancer Navigation Conference, for people who help those diagnosed with cancer navigate the medical system. The coordinator of the conference invited us to set up a table, and we gave away 40 copies! (Actually, my sister, Vicki and I attended as Nancy was sick that day.)

Nancy & I marvel at how once we let go of our financial concerns, opportunities to share Diane’s journey opened up. The miracles continue!

Becky Bohan