What is the current mortality rate in Australia?

Mortality rates remains at 100% - Things To Know Before You Go workshop

Despite huge advances in modern medicine the mortality rate in Australia continues to be 100%. Shock? Yes, the one thing we all have in common is that … we are going to die. Yet 60% of us here in Australia think we don’t talk enough about death.

To overcome this, over the last 5 years I have been facilitating community conversations and events that raise our death literacy and capacity for end-of-life planning. Hundreds of people have generously shared their stories and insights at Death Cafes, Death Over Dinner, Dying To Know Day, speaking engagements and on my pop-up Before I Die Wall.

Launch of Pushing Up Daisies Workshop

A few days ago I launched a values-based workshop – Pushing Up Daisies: Building your death literacy and capacity for practical and creative end-of-life planning – with a pilot group of 14 wonderful, courageous people as part of the Connect and Thrive with Age program funded by SA Health. The workshop explores death in Australia in the 21st century and how you can creatively, practically and cost-effectively respond. I have incorporated all I have been experiencing and learning in this space over the last 7 years into the workshop, supported by the latest research. In a welcoming safe space, we explore answers to questions such as:

  • What is death?
  • How long will I live?
  • What will I die of?
  • Where will I die?
  • Do I need a funeral director?
  • Bury or burn or … ?
  • What’s important to me?
  • How to communicate my wishes?
  • Can I grow with grief?

We do this by looking at what’s happening in Australia right now in each of these areas and then think about what that means for us and what we would like to do in-line with our beliefs and values. So it’s a very personal, hands-on, practical experience and you walk away with resources and a doable action plan.

The workshop was hosted by the Connect and Thrive With Age team, headed up by Rhonda Smedley; at the Uniting Church hall at Walkerville last Friday 9th August. The light lunch and refreshments were mouth-wateringly delicious as always! Homemade everything from generous-sized mugs of pumpkin soup with think crusty fresh bread to an array of slices with nuts and fruit. In fact one of the feedback suggestions was a longer break to enjoy more of that scrumptious food!

The top values when thinking about death were:

  • Not being alone
  • Not being a burden on family and friends
  • Being able to say goodbye to loved ones
  • Staying active and independent for as long as possible
  • Being able to have fresh air
  • Being an advocate for someone who is dying
  • Being informed about my illness and treatment
  • Quality of life over length of life

Some of the insights gained by the group were:

  • The importance of getting on with my Advanced Care Directive and Enduring Power of Attorney and that they can be uploaded to My Health Record.
  • I was pleased that the research that I have conducted, was affirmed by your event. This gives me the confidence to continue with my checklist and to be bold in conducting conversations.
  • The need to talk to my children about end of life plans.
  • Keep all important documents and information in one, easy to find, folder.
  • It is so important to discuss death/funeral wishes with your family as when you ask them what they would like, they haven’t even thought about it and therefore don’t even know what they want.

Kind words …

And some lovely kind words were shared about the workshop:

  • Death is not an easy topic to discuss but Abby made each and everyone of us feel comfortable, enabling us to talk openly and honestly.
  • It was interesting, interactive, the right length of time and compassionate. Well done.
  • Attending the workshop has created much interesting discussion with my family and also work colleagues.
  • The workshop has empowered me with knowledge and resources that I may one day need to use and has allowed me to think about what I would really like when I die.
  • Great to receive information about many end of life issues and a safe environment to discuss these in.
  • Loved how you started the workshop as it got us all thinking and talking. I was interested in the reactions and interpretations from each member of the group.
  • Attending the workshop was time very well spent. Much good practical advice associated with death, bereavement and funeral planning was dispensed. Many myths associated with the funeral industry were dispelled.
  • Abby’s caring and thoughtful facilitation brought together a diverse group of participants creating a safe learning space to explore death, dying and getting organised. To consider, plan and not be afraid. I felt blessed to share this time with my sister as we share life, living and the inevitably of leaving this place.
  • Thank you for a professional, entertaining and informative workshop. Talking about Death and Dying is clearly a topic that you are comfortable talking with and about to others. During the workshop a few members of the group had difficulty in speaking; were overwhelmed by their grief and loss. Your knowledge, confidence, experiences, understanding and compassion were clearly demonstrated, enabling them to express their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Book a workshop

I would love to facilitate this important workshop for your workplace, community group or family and friends. We need this information back in our communities. Call me on 0409 830 927 or email me on abby@ourfamilycelebrant.com.au to make it happen for you and your group.

What does a girl wear … to her grave?

natural burial shrouded body in natural fibre

I am keen on a natural burial where I can be buried in either a shroud or a coffin. Whatever I am cocooned in needs to be organic and biodegradable as per the SA Burial & Cremation Act 2013. For this post I am musing about my perfect shroud. So what does a girl wear to her natural burial grave?

In deciding what to wear I will be guided by my social ecological values which are based around kindness and connection with all. I also LOVE crocheting. So how cool would it be to crochet my own shroud that decomposes to compost quickly and looks beautiful!!

Paper – the perfect fibre for the grave

The perfect fibre would of course be paper. “Paper garments for the grave” was an arts based project in Burnie Tasmania in 2015. Ten Tasmanian paper artists designed and made paper garments following six months of conversations, exploring community, death, dying loss and grief. The exhibit that grabbed my attention was the crocheted shroud made of paper called Fibre of my Being by Pam Thorne. Another was Anzara Clark’s poignant bitter-sweet exhibit “Christening shroud” made of paper in honour of her grandson, Cody, who died in utero 10 years ago .

Pia Interlandi and Pam Thorne beneath Pam’s shroud titled Fibre of my Being
paper Christening-Shroud - Anzara Clark 2015
Christening-Shroud | paper | Anzara Clark | 2015

To be kind and connect with the earth, my accoutrements and adornments need to fall away from my body quickly and alchemise as fast as possible into compost. So beside paper, what materials does that include? Am thinking animal and plant fibres. I found comprehensive lists here which I have copied below.

Animal fibres

AlpacaAlpacaSoft, warmth, lightweight
Angora woolAngora rabbitSoftness, blends well with other fibres
AzlonSyntheticSoft, silky, hygroscopic, also known as Aralac
ByssusPinna nobilisWarmth, lightweight
Camel hairArabian ña / Guanaco / South America camelid varietiesSoftness, warmth
Cashmere woolIndian cashmere goatSoftness
ChiengoraDogFluffy, lightweight
LambswoolLambsSoftness, elasticity, warmth
LlamaLlamaLightweight, insulating
Mohair woolNorth African angora goatDyes well, lightweight
QiviutMuskoxenSoftness, warmth
SilkSilk wormSmooth fabric finish with high shine
VicuñaVicuñaExpensive, luxurious, soft
YakWild YakHeavy, warmth

Plant fibres

AbacáAbaca plantThin, lightweight
AcetateWood PulpLustrous, thermoplastic
BambooGrass pulpLightweight, pliable fibre
BananaBanana plant pseudostem/leavesWarm, thick, durable
KapokPentandra treeFluffy
CoirCoconutStrength, durability
CottonShrubLightweight, absorbent
FlaxHerbaceous plantLightweight, absorbent, used to make linen
HempCannabisStrength, durability
JuteVegetable plant in linden familyStrength,durability
KenafHibiscus cannabinusRough
LyocellEucalyptus TreeSoft, lightweight, absorbent
ModalBeech treeSoftness, lightweight
PiñaPineapple leafSoft, lightweight
RaffiaRaffia palmCarpet/rough
RamieFlowering plant in nettle familyHeavy, tough
RayonWood PulpSoft, lightweight, absorbent
SisalAgave sisalanaStrength, durability
Soy proteinTofu-manufacturing wasteWooly, lightweight

My eye was drawn to the “attribute” column. mmmm thinking comfort attributes like warm, wooly, insulating, soft, rough, silky, fluffy are not really relevant to this decision from a practical viewpoint – my body won’t care if its cosy and warm in its eternal yet ephemeral wrap. However these attributes add to the aesthetic quality that is important to me – both for the sensual enjoyment of the making process and for the sensual feel for the people wrapping my body. The fibre needs to decompose quickly so attributes of strength, heavy, durability, tough, thick do not apply. So my choice is from the fibres with attributes of lightweight, absorbent and thin plus the comfort attributes. Am thinking that animal fibres would be more durable than plant fibres plus using animals would have suffered in some way to provide me their yarn. The attribute “absorbent” seems to jump out at me as important – in case my body is leaking anywhere an absorbent garment would be beneficial. So that leaves lightweight, absorbent plant fibers to choose from.

My revised list looks like this:

Fibre Source Attribute
Abacá Abaca plant Thin, lightweight
Bamboo Grass pulp Lightweight, pliable fibre
Cotton Shrub Lightweight, absorbent
Flax Herbaceous plant Lightweight, absorbent, used to make linen
Lyocell Eucalyptus Tree Soft, lightweight, absorbent
Modal Beech tree Softness, lightweight
Piña Pineapple leaf Soft, lightweight
Rayon Wood Pulp Soft, lightweight, absorbent
Soy protein Tofu-manufacturing waste Wooly, lightweight

When researching these fibres I came across the concept of sustainable vegan fibres – it turns out some plant fibres are more sustainable than others..

What is Abaca? Abaca is similar to banana leaf, native to the Phillipines and is labour intensive to harvest and process. It is used mainly for paper production. Finding out about Abaca made me think I would like a fibre that is produced as close to where I live as possible to reduce distribution transport environmental costs.

I also then started thinking about the other production chain costs/impacts of growing, harvesting, manufacturing and end-of-life biodegradablity of each fibre.

It turns out modal, rayon, bamboo and lyocell are semi-synthetic fibers because they are not natural fibres produced straight from the plant, they go through an intensive chemical manufacturing process that breaks down the cellulose so it can be “regenerated” into a fiber from the original pulp. So they are now off my list.

Pina from pineapples is luxurious, expensive and is from the Phillipines so that is also off the list.

Soy protein caught my interest: “The first use of soy in textiles was in the 1930s, when Henry Ford produced car-seat upholstery with a blend of soybean and sheep’s wool. Soy yarn fiber comes from the byproducts of the tofu and soy-food industry. The useable soybean leftovers are called okara, which is in liquid form. Through a process called wet-spinning, soy proteins are extracted from the okara and dried. The dried proteins are then spun into yarn, either the dried soy protein by itself or with other fibers such as wool or cotton. The operation is eco-friendly and leaves little to no waste.” (source). I was unable to find any Australian made soy fibre so this fibre is also off my list as I cannot source it locally.

That leaves cotton and flax. Both of which are grown in Australia. The modern process has reduced the amount of water and chemicals needed during growing, harvesting and processing stages. Here is a list of Australian companies that sell Australian cotton yarn, but not all of them sell organic cotton it seems.

It was interesting to learn that cotton takes about 5 months to biodegrade and wool takes about 1-5 years.

Biodegradable Textiles:

  • Cotton: Cotton is one of the most biodegradable fabrics you can have, especially if it is 100% cotton. In a compost, cotton may biodegrade within as little as a week but usually takes about 5 months.[iv]
  • Linen: This very fine material can decompose in as little as two weeks if it is all natural.[v]It is recommended that you cut fabric into small pieces to allow it to decompose better and faster.
  • Wool: Wool (including our cruelty-free alpaca wool) clothing will decompose in about one year but can take as long as five depending on the blend.[vi]
  • Bamboo: Bamboo clothing is becoming more and more popular and is similar to wool in that it takes one year and sometimes longer to biodegrade.[vii]
  • Hemp: Since hemp is derived from plants and is not processed excessively, it is highly biodegradable, breaking down in a short period of time.
  • Silk: This textile is created from the cocoons of silk worms and is also very biodegradable.
  • Rayon: Rayon, modal and lyocell are produced from renewable cellulosic plants such as beech trees, pine trees, and bamboo. All three fibers are biodegradable.  Specifically, Lenzing Viscose® and Lenzing Modal® are produced from sustainably harvested beech trees and Tencel® from sustainably harvested eucalyptus trees.
  • Other biodegradable fashion materials: Textiles such as jute, leaf fibers, and abaca fiber, as well as cork, seeds, shells, nuts, and wood are all compostable.

Then I got side tracked as I was googling Australian organic cotton and found all these wonderful free crochet patterns for market tote bags – which I have been wanting to make one for awhile. Serendipitously the 3 patterns I saved are each made from one of plant fibres I am contemplating using for my shroud – cotton, jute, linen (flax).

Making a tote bag is a relatively short project. By making these 3 bags it will give me an idea of what its like to work with the fibres and what the end result feels like. I will then have more of an idea which fibre will work best for my shroud.

Crocheting my shroud

I have not been able to find a pattern for a crocheted shroud so will also think about the stitch I want to use and make my own pattern. Each of the 3 tote bags has an interesting stitch pattern that could be adapted for a shroud.

Here are the tote bag links:

I am also keen to experiment with paper yarn. On googling paper yarn I learned that the best paper to use is soft and thin like newspaper, toilet paper or tissue paper. I have a lot of newspapers about Robbie’s death – have been looking for a project that will upcycle them into something of meaning for me. Will experiment making a ball of newspaper yarn and crochet that into something. I have a packet of red tissue paper that has sat in my drawer for years so will process that into a ball of paper yarn and crochet a bowl to get an idea of what it’s like to work with. I found a wonderful and hilariously innovative idea of how to quickly create a ball of loo paper yarn by using an electric drill.