Women Do Death Differently

#BOVO14 3110 years ago, it occurred to me that maybe women do death differently. That’s when I bought the domain name,  Final Fling, in the hope that I could contribute in some way.

We’re more about emotional engagement than transaction. We’re collaborative, supportive, we cut to the chase and focus on the important things. We’re good at loving kindness.

(Hang on till I put my broad brush down and get on with making my point.)

The thing is, few people get expert at this dying thing. We each only do it once. For most folk, we’re only likely to organise one or two funerals in our lifetime. We can be well into middle age and beyond before we encounter a close death.

So it’s heartening to see that in the 10 years since I began thinking about this and the 4 years since I launched Final Fling, many women have claimed the space that was theirs till the Victorians professionalised what was really a carpentry, moving and shifting trade. That’s when death disappeared from our front parlours to cloaked back rooms. The reality is, we were very glad that funeral directors stepped up. We were glad to hand over our dead and pay for a ‘hygenic process’. Our growing consumer society bought into the dazzle of limo and pomp. Women in the community, busy pursuing independent lives outside the home were relieved to get a bit of support. The birth of the NHS was a death knoll for women’s wisdom, passed from granny to mother to daughter as carers of the dying and dead.

And now, lots of us are getting back in there. We lose connection with our mortality by medicalising death. We lose connection with the natural process of death and letting go, not tending to our dying. We cling desperately onto our youth now death has become a remote, mysterious, fearful place.

Final Fling’s Women Do Death Differently Top 10

This week, I’m hoping to get a minute or two on my favourite radio show – BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour with the straight talking, dream big sisters, Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey. I doubt I’ll have time to acknowledge all the important women who are leading change and supporting others in the journey from life to death. So I thought I’d take a moment to acknowledge the various people who popped up in my life to help, inspire, inform, train, mentor, support, coach and cheer on from the sidelines:

  • Rebecca Green, palliative care nurse, death doula, performer… the first person I met on my journey in 2010. We literally bumped into each other in the coffee line at a social enterprise conference and excited to find someone who shared my vision. Rebecca was one of a small band – the Final Fling family – who helped me to get going and she shared her wisdom in a series of films I produced.
  • Josefine Speyer, founder of the Natural Death Centre was definitely ahead of the curve. Serendipity had us bump into each other at the Southbank’s Festival of the Living in January 2012 – just before we launched that April. Reading about her work and vision for us to reclaim our dead and be hands-on had inspired me and I’m privileged to call Josefine a friend now. Josefine ran  Death Salons before the rest of us caught up with our Death Cafes.
  • Sue Gill and Gilly Adams were next up. They taught me how to create special places, moods, moments and meaningful ceremonies at their inspired, creative, life-enhancing Rites of Passage training in 2011.
  • Poppy Mardall, game changer, has built a person-centred business around direct cremation… simplifying funerals and making them not just affordable but a different model that frees up family to do the ceremony themselves. We’ve became friends the minute we met by phone and she generously shared her own learning journey and showed me the ropes in the mortuary.
  • Felicity Warner and Hermione Elliot lead the way in care of the dying. Felicity’s Soul Midwives and Hermione’s Death Doulas brings a network of support that is making its way north now.
  • Jane Harris (from my neck of the woods) with partner Jimmy Edmonds set up Beyond Goodbye to remember son Josh. Jane and Jimmy have been travelling the world, gathering stories of people like them – parents who lost a child – to bring comfort to others.
  • Cara Mair set up Arka Funerals in Brighton with Sarah Clarke not to be crazy, hippy, alternative – the story so many TV researchers are looking for – but to be human and give friends and family permission and support to get the send off they want. Award-winning, Care shared her time and wisdom with us, giving Fling some behind the scenes insights into how we can do funerals better.
  • Anne Widdop and the team at Fuze and Essential Funeral trained me as a Humanist celebrant.  Ironically, I’ve delivered a dozen weddings to one funeral – took me a while to twig that you can’t diary in a funeral the way you can a wedding and my hectic work life needs a tectonic shift if I’m to make more space for funerals… though maybe that’s coming.

It’s rubbish trying to limit the list to 10. Because there’s Paula Rainey Crofts – queen of doing it differently. Karen at Naturally Useful making lovely willow coffins, Lucy Jane at the Individual Funeral Company in Oxford, Carrie and Fran who set up A Natural Undertaking were best new Funeral Directors at the Ideal Death Show, Melissa at Leedhams natural burial grounds and Fran recently of Clandonwood Natural Burial reserve, Jane (and Simon) at Green Fuse who did my care of the body training with Angie from Red Plait, Claire Turnham at Only with Love home funerals, people like Dr Kate Granger who are sharing their experiences of living with death and Jane Duncan Rogers who delivered a workshop for us in January. Nixie James-Scott and a pile of others in our Marketplace.

As Fling’s fourth birthday approaches in April, email me if you have thoughts about how you can help us do death better – men and women together.

9 thoughts on “Women Do Death Differently

  1. Thanks Final Fling. Happy to be here in such great company! Your blog is a wonderful read Barbara and it’s so inspiring to know and work alongside these inspirational women. Together we are creating more choice and better funerals for everyone. Love our OWL pic too!

  2. It’s brilliant to see so many friends and members of our Home Funeral Network throughout the UK included in this blog. We are proud of the support we give to each other and to our communities as we each help create positive change around death.

  3. Hello Barbara, great write up – just happened to have gifted myself time to read today’s post and there at the end was my name!! Gosh and thank you for including me! My self and a group of women are getting together in North Devon with Dying to Share, death cafe and Dying Matters day in The Plough Arts Centre Torrington 15th May! Also part of the wonderful burgeoning Home Funeral Network with Claire Turnham and co!! Exciting times ahead. Any chance of putting a link under my name in the blog? If not me details are below if anyone wants to get in touch! Thanks for all the amazing work YOU do too x

  4. Effervescent as ever Barbara, well quilled, great shroud photo thank you and to all the ladies for all your support with the shrouds, hope to see many of you at the Bristol Death fair on Saturday 5th March, best wishes Gordon & Alison from Respect.

  5. What a great post Barbara, and wonderful to finally meet you in person last week. You are one inspirational woman and need to be on your own list 🙂 Thanks too for introducing me to some new names – the more connections with others doing this kind of work, the better.

  6. Lovely to hear you talking on Women’s Hour today – and thanks for all your hard work helping to get people talking constructively about death and for promoting the work that all these amazing women do! – Carrie and Fran

  7. Barbara, I agree we women are more about emotional engagement, and also often physically engaged 24/7 when a loved one is dying, and so a gentle release is oh so important. I have long thought we would all sure benefit from the return of the Wise Women to every neighbourhood – to reassure people that all is well as the natural dying process unfolds and enable families to keep their loved ones’ body at home until the funeral. I am so grateful that, more by chance than design, people I had cared for dearly over a long time did not suddenly vanish in the hours after their death whilst I was in too deep an emotional turmoil to comprehend it. Unfortunately few people have the chance of this gentle release these days. Wise Women could make such a difference – at the time of death, and for a long time afterwards.

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