Creativity and death – not so strange bedfellows

 

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of fellow GP and writer Leah Kaminsky’s “we’re all going to die“.

I have posted about before about the need to have conversations about death and dying in A better death and revealed some of my own journey after loved ones died in The healing power of creativity.

I’m delighted to report that Leah’s “joyful book about death” has exceeded my every expectation. My copy now has many turned page corners to mark sentences and passages that I want to come back to again.

we’re all going to die” added to the books that have most inspired me:

Favourite books for inspiration smaller kB (1024x768)

 

Far from being gloomy, the back cover of we’re all going to die says “by facing and accepting our coming death, we can all learn to live in a more vital, fearless and truthful way.”

Refreshingly honest, touchingly personal, and always with deep and respectful consideration of how difficult thinking about death and dying can be, this book has triggered lots of thoughts for me about how we can make more of our lives while not ignoring the inevitable presence of death, be it far or near, in relation to ourselves or those we love. (You can see my review here.)

In the context of my blog theme this year (what we can learn from the world around us and the characters within it, what inspires or heightens our creativity and how we can harness these influences), death and creativity might seem strange companions, and yet there are strong connections.

 

So looking at creativity through the lens of certain death in our lives, and building on we’re all going to die:

  • Being creative helps us fully experience life. A creative person who doesn’t express their creativity is not fully living.
  • Allow time for creativity. Creative results can’t be forced, but they need to be given the opportunity to materialise. What needs to be done, needs to be done – but don’t waste time on less important or unfulfilling activities.
  • Get your creativity out onto the page, canvas or preferred medium. If you die with your creative project inside, it will never see the light of day. You never know what is around the corner. Just get started and keep going.
  • Use your creativity to help you deal with death and the emotions it brings. Personal and professional experience has taught me that being creative can help us access emotions that we might otherwise struggle to face and this can help us heal as best we can, sometimes much later.
  • Use your creativity to honour the dead. This may take the form of a personal tribute or dedication, a creative ritual to help you remember your loved one or just knowing that spending time being creative can be a form of showing respect.
  • Let creativity help us to have conversations about death and dying. Leah talks about “death denialism”, pointing out that we have sanitised death. Creativity is one way we can make death real and challenge our feelings in a deeply respectful way.
  • Be kind and compassionate towards others. This was a strong take-home message from Leah’s book, and applying this to the creative theme, use kindness and compassion to foster and encourage others’ creativity. I have previously blogged about kindness in The best cuppa ever – don’t forget even the small things count.
  • Feed your creativity, and your joy in life itself, by surrounding yourself with beauty wherever you can. Things and spaces we love are important, but this extends beyond material beauty to meaningful relationships, listening to music that speaks to you or hearing the rain outside, wearing a scent you adore or a soft scarf you love the feel of, sitting in the sunshine and soaking up nature when you go for a walk – beauty in all senses. The corollary is also true – sometimes we need to cull that which means less to us.

 

Thank you to the lovely Leah Kaminsky for her frank exploration of her own confrontation with death and for inspiring this post (which can only but touch upon a few insights from Leah’s book).

Unashamed fangirl photo from the launch of “we’re all going to die (Leah is on the left):

Photo credit: Dionne Lew (dionnelew.com)

Photo credit: Dionne Lew (dionnelew.com)

If you only had a limited time left, is there something creative you would wish you had done (or done more of)? If you feel bold enough to publically share your creative dream, please feel free to comment below. If you’d rather not comment, please make a start on your creative process anyway!

Are there other synergies that you can see between creativity and death? I’d love you to share your ideas in the comments section.

 

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

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Disclaimer

© 2016 Jacquie Garton-Smith

 

When Mother’s Day Hurts

As it’s Mother’s Day in Australia today, I am sharing Marie Ennis-O’Connor’s deeply touching “When Mother’s Day Hurts”, which she posted on Ireland’s Mother’s Day this year and has kindly agreed to me reblogging today. (2016 addendum: Here’s the link to Marie’s equally moving 2016 When Mother’s Day Hurts post – unfortunately Marie’s 2015 Mother’s Day post appears to have been taken down, but I have left my response up as I think it still has value. Another relevant post from Marie is Missing my mother on her birthday)

Marie’s reflections are a poignant reminder that Mother’s Day can be a painful time for many for all kinds of reasons. Some of us will feel conflicted, celebrating one or more aspects while grieving on another.

Marie’s post also reminds me of the power of sharing stories.

Today as I pay loving tribute to the mothers in my life, I also honour my mother-in-law, who died last year, and my grandmothers, who died in 1994 and 2001. And while I celebrate the absolute good fortune of being a mother to a wonderful 14 year-old son, I well remember the difficult and painful years of subfertility and pregnancy losses.

If Mother’s Day acts as a painful reminder for you, my thoughts are also with you today.

A Better Death

Having the best life we can is something many of us desire and work towards. How we, or our loved ones, can die as well as possible is something many think less about.

A month ago we lost a very dear family member to heart failure. It is hard to write about still. In truth I have found it hard to write at all over recent weeks. However there is so much to learn from everything that happens and there are some positives to share from this experience which may help others. It is especially timely to share my thoughts on how we can do better with Change Day Australia on Thursday 6th March 2014. Addendum – 2015 Change Day will be 11th March!

My mother-in-law Chris was an incredible woman. She was one of the kindest people I have ever met. She hadn’t had an easy life, but she faced both life and her impending death with grace, courage and acceptance.

A rose by any other name

This post is a tribute to how she handled the situation she found herself in, but there are three key elements that allowed her to do so:

1. Information.

The cardiologist communicated very clearly about her prognosis and, to the best of his knowledge, what she could expect at diagnosis and all along. It was a shock for Chris at first, but it was the start of her coming to terms with her shortened life expectancy and to consider and communicate her wishes. As her condition became end-stage, she was not surprised and had most things put in place.

2. Palliative Care.

As a family we had experienced together how much palliative care can help in the past and Chris welcomed a timely referral. Palliative care is not just for cancer. There is much available to assist people with end of life chronic disease. The combination of expert care to help ease unpleasant symptoms, in this case particularly severe breathlessness, and the mobilisation of extra help at home made a huge difference to her quality of life over her final few months. It also allowed us to spend more quality time with her, as she was more comfortable and able to do a little more than she would have without treatment.

3. An Advance Health Directive.

The benefits of making an Advance Health Directive or a “living will” were at least two-fold. Firstly, her wishes were clearly articulated and helped us as her family understand what she wanted. Secondly when she had an unexpected sudden turn and an ambulance was called, the paramedics were given the Directive as soon as they came and were able to act in line with her wishes, as legally obliged to do so. There was no grey area. Without it, she may have been given CPR and carted off to hospital, both of which she explicitly did not want.

Our loss is still painful. We each regret that she had to die and we all miss her terribly. Because she had a sudden deterioration on the background of a slower decline, we didn’t get to say good-bye in the way we might have liked. But we can grieve knowing that she knew and had accepted that her life was ending and that the way she died was as she had expressed she wanted – peacefully at home, dignified with a minimum of fuss and with a quick final departure.

The key lessons to achieving a better death from our experience:

  • I encourage everybody to be open to having conversations around death. What may seem uncomfortable for some can bring enormous comfort.
  • In addition to this, I ask my colleagues in the health professions to clearly communicate, to offer early referral to palliative care and to provide information about Advance Health Directives (or your equivalent).

Would you like to share anything about your experience of losing a loved one?

What did, or could have, made the journey better?

Change Day is a wonderful chance to commit to do at least one thing to contribute to better end of life care or to improve health and wellbeing in general. Imagine the difference we can make if we each promise and do one thing. Please pledge now! Be creative… Or copy – we don’t mind. Please check out the wonderful pledges on the Change Day Australia website. There’s nothing to stop you making positive changes at any time of the year!

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You also may find inspiration from my posts on Imagine yourself in someone else’s hospital bed (or chair), The best cuppa ever about kindness or an earlier exploration of Where health and creativity intersect.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+ .

Disclaimer

© 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith (Change Day image thanks to changeday.com.au)

(updated 4 May 2014)

The healing power of creativity

The research demonstrating the health benefits of being creative was touched upon in my last post. We could continue to talk science but for me it is very personal story.

During the mid to late 1990s, my family experienced the losses of a number of loved ones mostly due to cancer. I was lucky in lots of ways. I have a loving husband and family. I had a few years of my career as a doctor under my belt, I worked with people who were supportive and I had worked previously with a palliative care team. I was well-armed to process information about what was happening and to help my family. It did get me to wondering how people manage to navigate the health system without a health professional background but perhaps that’s a topic for another time.

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Photo by Mia Holton

I ran between work, which I still found rewarding, and my role as a caring relative, always wishing I had found more time to spend with my loved one before they got sick. As each illness took its course, both difficult and precious times were shared, everybody made a significant contribution and we were brought closer as a family.

Life goes on. You pull yourself together and do the needful. Days and then weeks and months pass in a blur. But grieving is painful and I couldn’t stay numb forever. In the dark days that followed one of our losses, a dear and wise friend Dionne Lew suggested that I write and told me about “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. I was surprised that she even thought of me as a writer as I had focused so completely on my career that I had not written fiction since high school. In fact I had read few novels since school as all my reading time was spent on medical journals.

I took her advice and wrote, at first tentatively, and gradually found that I got my right arm and my life back. Allowing myself to write let me process things differently, even when I was writing fiction. I strongly believe that when you write, you won’t go anywhere that you aren’t ready to go. Writing helped me to move on. I am also fascinated by how reading fiction, which is something I now do regularly, can help us to access our emotions, learn and better understand ourselves in a way that direct examination of our own lives might not allow. And the benefits don’t end with the written word. I also found that I enjoy painting and have found gardening to be another creative outlet.

Interestingly over the last decade I have noticed that when I don’t find the time for creative writing, I suffer terrifying nightmares. Not the kind of things I want to share or would ever write about even in fiction. It is like the creative urge is coiled up somewhere in my subconscious and needs to be given an opportunity to come out. I trudge back to my computer, start typing and they stop.

How has being creative helped you?

What are the consequences for you if you are not creative?

How you might make a change that promotes creativity and health?

I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to share your thoughts on creativity and health.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+ .

Disclaimer

© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith  (Photo by Mia Holton)