Home-Based Death Care

Above: Creative Commons image

October 16, 2022
Home-Based Death Care
Death in Print: Dying: A memoir by Cory Taylor, Meet: Home-based death care practitioner Claire Turnham, Death on Screen: Death is not the endpoint featuring Zach Bush
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Dying: A memoir
Photo by Jacob,_(1961_%E2%80%93_2006).jpg#/media/File:Richard_Carlson,_(1961_–_2006).jpg
Australian writer Cory Taylor wrote Dying: A memoir in only three weeks. It was published in May 2016 and she died the following month. The culture in which Cory was raised and died - white, middle class-ish Australia - is my culture. It’s different to the culture in which I am now immersed here in Aotearoa New Zealand, which seems much more open and accepting of death – and family-based rituals around dying, particularly in Māori communities.

When I read this from Taylor, I remember how much we need to change in Australia:

Things are not as they should be. For so many of us, death has become the unmentionable thing, a monstrous silence. But this is no help to the dying, who are probably lonelier now that they’ve ever been.

The structure of the book is quite unusual for a memoir – it works in reverse, beginning with Taylor’s thoughts on her imminent death and her wish that assisted dying was legal in Australia, then moves to the describe the difficult relationship she had with her both of her parents, particularly as they aged and then died, and then concludes with reflections on her younger years.

One of the final scenes in the book depicts Cory’s failed attempts at pony club. She writes:

If I tell these little histories now, it is because they conjure a feeling of what it was like to be me back then, the same but different, the body still growing up and out into the world instead of contracting and retreating from it. It’s often said that life is short. But life is also simultaneous, all of our experiences existing in time together, in the flesh. For what are we, if not a body taking a mind for a walk, just to see what’s there? And, in the end, where do we get to, if not back to a beginning that we’ve never really left behind?

She concludes:

If I feel the need to relive the journey it is all there, written in runes on my body. Even my cells remember it, all that sunshine I bathed in as a child, too much as it turned out. In my beginning is my end.

This is perhaps a comment on the structure of her memoir as much as it is on her life.

The natural death care movement is now almost 20 years old and over the past decade in particular the death positivity moment has started to make inroads into new communities. The fact that hundreds and hundreds of people have now completed the Natural Death Care Centre’s Deathwalker Training with Zenith Virago has been one of the factors.

Sadly, six years ago, Cory did not have this kind of support. You get the feeling she felt very lonely in the last few weeks of her life.

She says “None of my doctors ever raised the subject of death with me, a fact I still find mystifying.”

But it’s even more heart-breaking when she writes, “We have lost our common rituals and our common language for dying and must either improvise or fall back on traditions about which we feel deeply ambivalent.”

She concludes, “For us it seems that dying exposes the limitations of secularism like nothing else.”

That’s why the deathwalker and death positive movements are so important. We are creating a new language and new rituals to support ourselves, our whānau or families and our communities as we all walk towards our own deaths.

Dying: A memoir was published by Text Publishing in Australia and New Zealand, by Tin House Books in the United States and by Canongate in United Kingdom.
Meet Claire Turnham
Claire Turnham is internationally recognised as a leading Home Death Care Practitioner, Educator and Advisor. Since setting up her Only With Love – or OWL – practice in the UK in 2014 Claire has presented regularly at international conferences and been invited to teach gentle care of the body in hospices and communities around the world.

In 2016 Claire was awarded Runner Up Green Funeral Director of the Year and was Commended for her OWL Funeral Services at the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 UK Good Funeral Awards.

Claire is a founder member of the Home Funeral Network in the UK and AHFA, the newly formed Australian Home Funeral Alliance. Within Aotearoa New Zealand, she is currently consulting with regional communities, co-ordinating a national compassionate communities collective and co-developing training for the use of Manaaki Mats in homes and hospitals for use in stillbirth and beyond.

Claire feels intuitively that death and dying still belong with families, and is passionate about sharing her skills, knowledge and experiences to help others.

More recently Claire has been honoured by Amnesty International for her campaigning and advocacy work and awarded an MBE for her services to Consumer Rights. She now has her sights set on monopoly control of the funeral industry.

Claire nominated 'Hine E Hine' by Hayley Westenra as a song she would like played at her funeral or wake. Listen to the song in our 'Farewell songs' playlist.
Watch Claire Turnham

Find out more about Only With Love here.
Follow Claire Turnham on Twitter.

Death is not an endpoint
Since this episode is focused on the months, weeks and days before – and after – someone dies, I'm sharing a short video on YouTube called 'Death is not the endpoint'.

As Zenith Virago, the founder of the Natural Death Care Centre, says most people agree that when people die, something leaves the body.

This video features Zach Bush MD who is a physician specialising in internal medicine, endocrinology and hospice care. He’s talking to Rich Roll on his popular podcast series, which has been running since 2013. He’s released more than 700 episodes. This interview is from episode #414.
Watch Death is not the endpoint

Find out more about Zach Bush.
Visit Rich Roll's podcast site.
Listen to previous Season 2 episodes
  • OUT APRIL 24, 2022
    Death in Print: Death and its Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Beautiful Lessons by Becky Aud-Jennison, Meet: Deathwalker and author Becky Aud-Jennison, Death on Screen: 'Good Grief'
  • OUT MAY 8, 2022
    EPISODE 2 
    Death in PrintWhat Days Are For by Robert Dessaix, Meet: Septuagenerian climate activist Bill McEwan, Death on Screen: Nelson Poetry Map featuring Bill Manhire's poem, 'Kevin'
  • OUT MAY 22, 2022
    Death in PrintAn Hour to Live, An Hour to Love by Richard Carlson, Meet: Storyteller Tanya Batt, Death on Screen: Imagined Worlds website
  • OUT JUNE 5, 2022
    Death in PrintWild Darkness by Eva Saulitis, Meet: Natural burial pioneer Dawn Jones and her daughter Sylvia Bauer Death on Screen: NZ Natural Burial directory
  • OUT JULY 3, 2022
    Death in PrintActions & Travels: How Poetry Works by Anna Jackson, Meet: Singer/songwriter Nick Feint Death on Screen: 'Good Bones' by Maggie Smith
  • OUT JULY 24, 2022
    Death in Print: 'Thanksgiving in Mongolia' by Ariel Levy, Meet: Christchurch Death Cafe and Death Matters NZ founder Melanie Mayell Death on Screen: Baz Luhrmann's 'Elvis'
  • AUGUST 7, 2022
    Death in PrintThe Eulogy by Jackie Bailey, Meet: Funeral director, interfaith minister and author Jackie Bailey Death on Screen: The Beautiful Lie
  • OUT AUGUST 21, 2022
    Death in PrintFinding True Connections by Gareth St John Thomas, Meet: Krisca Gould and Mary Garner from Nelson Tasman Hospice, Death on Screen: Te Kahu Pairuri o Aotearoa Hospice New Zealand website
  • SEPTEMBER 18, 2022
    Death in PrintRemote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey, Meet: Dr Kathryn L Smith, GP who provides physician-assisted dying services, Death on Screen: Station Eleven
  • OCTOBER 2, 2022
    EPISODE 10
    Death in PrintMy Mother and Other Secrets by Wendyl Nissen and Remember Me by Charity Norman, Meet: Deathwalker and artist Aralyn Doiron, Death on Screen: Trail of Light and Giving Back to the Earth by Green Renaissance
Catch up on Season 1 episodes
  • OUT OCTOBER 3, 2021
    Death in Print: Before You Knew My Name, Meet: author Jacqueline Bublitz, Death on Screen: 'Dead to Me'
  • OUT OCTOBER 17, 2021
    Death in Print: Listen: How to Find the Words for Tender Conversations, Meet: author Kathryn Mannix, Death on Screen: 'Phone of the Wind'
  • OUT OCTOBER 31, 2021
    Death in Print: No Pressure, No Diamonds, Meet: legal executive Marie Austin, Death on Screen: 'I Told You I Was Ill: the Life & Legacy of Spike Milligan'
  • OUT OCTOBER 31, 2021
    Death in Print: No Pressure, No Diamonds by Teri Dillion, Meet: legal executive Marie Austin, Death on Screen: 'I Told You I Was Ill: The Life and Legacy of Spike Milligan'
  • OUT NOVEMBER 14, 2021
    Death in Print: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, Meet: poet & playwright Donna McLeod, Death on Screen: 'Living with Ghosts'
  • OUT NOVEMBER 28, 2021
    Death in Print: Mortals: How the Fear of Death Shaped Human Society by Rachel & Ross Menzies, Meet: psychologist and author Rachel Menzies, Death on Screen: Lisel Mueller on 'The Marginalian'
  • OUT DECEMBER 12, 2021
    Death in Print: No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, Meet: author Bonnie Etherington, Death on Screen: 'My Beautiful Broken Brain'