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From The Cradle to The Grave

Given my relatively newish (cough) entry into the fifty decade tick box, I’ve an increased interest in my health and a focus on end of life preparation. To me this means living life well, behaving well, and being informed and prepared so that I can die well.

I also have concerns about what we are told, or not told, by most health professionals in relation to living and dying well. Primarily the promotion and prescription of medications that are said to fix or prolong our health without substantial knowledge of adverse side effects or any contribution to the enhancement of our quality of life.  Conversations between health professionals and their clients could reveal much, if only those professionals were more aware of their importance and allocated time to for such conversations. All of these concerns I am raising connect to quality of life: how I live it, how my fellow humans live it and what can be done to improve our circumstances.

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Crowning Glory

Recently, I was asked to make a shroud for a woman who, because of an illness she has,  is in the final stages of her life.  Bespoke shrouds are not something I do frequently for the philosophy of Shroud Memento is to co-ordinate families to participate in the making of a shroud for another or, via a workshop, to make a shroud for yourself or someone close to you.  During the consultation with the woman and two of her grown children, she sketched for me an idea of what it was she wanted.

She didn’t like the word shroud, and she didn’t want a flat decorated cloth.  She handed over several pieces of material that held meaning and value for her.  When I saw what she had drawn it meant that I would need to make a pattern that would connect the panels of cloth to create the idea of the gown she had sketched, similar to a Japanese kimono, and to represent the essence of life in the garment.

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We all have a relationship of some kind to textiles because of the clothing we wear, the material we use in our domestic environment such as bedding, soft furnishings and miscellaneous items.  We know what feels comfortable and what is visually appealing, and perhaps despite our lengthy and daily use of textiles, we have taken them for granted.
As my appreciation of textiles extends beyond the norm, I signed up for a one-off weaving class with Michele Morcos at her studio in Camperdown, piqued by the very notion of weaving and its origins.  Beyond wearing animal skins, who thought of the idea to weave strands and what inspired them?  Obviously, heat, cold and the need for protection addresses the practical side of why we weave, but weaving developed, and still does, into the range of cloth and colour that produces amazing fashion, furnishings and art.  Materials used for the threads that are woven have also evolved, not just plant fibre or animal skin, there are synthetic material and metals used to make fabric.



22 December 1968

Given how long ago it was my recollections are pieces that don’t make a whole picture but they are connected.

My first recall was returning to school in the new year and pretending to the other children at my primary school that I’d had a wonderful holiday and that Christmas was as exciting for me as I thought theirs had been.

On Christmas day someone unknown to me had delivered to our house a large Esky filled with items that were dispensed to younger siblings and myself.  I received a very ordinary hairbrush and coloured hair elastics. It felt like I was receiving an item from a lucky dip, impersonal and arbitrary.

We may have had the treat of Christmas food like ham and roast chicken with vegetables as we had in past years but I don’t remember what we ate except we gathered as a family and played out Christmas like a silent movie.

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Saints, Souls and Halloween.

So much has been lost about the origin of Halloween due to commerce, consumerism and various points of view, so I searched for a connection between Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  I came across the site below that presented a reasonable account of their origins and written by a Catholic Priest, Fr William Saunders, of the Catholic Culture Organisation in America.  I’ve attached his post below to read what he has learnt.

The first of the three days is Halloween, celebrated on 31 October.  The name derives from ‘hallow’ (saints and holy ones) and ‘eve/een’, the evening before All Saints day, celebrated the following day on November 1 in honour of those who were canonised by the church as Saints.   At some stage in history the church thought it appropriate to also acknowledge the souls who weren’t quite saints and perhaps stuck in purgatory by having an All Souls Day to follow All Saints Day.  So the three consecutive days are about celebrating our dead and so we should.  Read on for more details and remember to honour your people in some small or grand way.  Sit quietly with a fond thought of them, cook their favourite meal, play or sing a song that connects you to them, light a candle, dust a photo, say their name/s.

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I sing in a choir once a week and we have a Christmas gig we’re practicing for in mid December.  Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem, is a song I suggested we sing for it heralds a point of view that is more accepting of the vicissitudes of Life and I don’t feel that songs sung at Christmas have to be traditional carols or contemporary ‘Xmas’ songs often associated with commercialism.  Christmas can be a mark of birth, new life and hope.

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State of Grace workshop in New Zealand

I’m excited about a workshop coming up in Auckland New Zealand, hosted by State of Grace Funerals, on November 17th.  If you happen to be in Auckland on that day, you might like to join the workshop from 1-5pm to learn more about shrouds and a range of techniques to decorate some chosen cloth.

The idea of a shroud workshop is to talk about shrouds and how they can play an important part in your end-of-life preparation or that of another, allowing reflection and consideration of yourself, your family and friends, as well as organising your ideas and thoughts into a manageable design.

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What to wear!

I would like to know what you would choose to be dressed in for your funeral?  There are a range of outfits and reasons behind a choice, so let’s hear from you and start a discussion.  In describing your choice of outfit or covering, I’m interested in the reasons for your choice, for example, a dress that you believe makes you look good, a shirt that you love the feel of, a shroud that is made by those you love, with love, a scarf that was given to you by someone close to you, as well as the colour/s of the outfit.

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Silk and Wool

Last Sunday, I attended the annual Funeral Celebrants Association of Australia event, as a guest speaker, to talk about Shroud Memento and the shrouds I make.  Firstly, I didn’t connect that funeral celebrants exist as do wedding celebrants.  I presumed that funeral services were conducted by priests or by a director at a funeral home; I live and learn.

Without any preconceived ideas, I went out to Macquarie Park Crematorium and Cemetery at North Ryde where the event was held.  I told myself that once my presentation was done (before morning tea) I could leave if I wanted to do so, however the range of speakers, as well as friendly and interesting attendees, were so interesting and informative that I was riveted and stayed until the end of the day.

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Being There


I read today an article written by Mary Elizabeth Williams for the Salon publication (reposted on Hoopla) about what she believes to be the best thing to say to the bereaved after someone close to them dies.  See the article below.

When I read such articles, I partly agree that we need to improve communication concerning death and grieving and am pleased that the subject has been raised, yet I feel for people who struggle to know what to say and in spite of that still say something.

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