Pedicures and Bucket Lists

Last Saturday I was faced with my own death.

Now that I have your attention, that’s not entirely true.

There was plenty of blood, (warm blood freaks me out) screaming, morphine, (that part was fun) and an ambulance ride to a country hospital in the middle of nowhere. (It was actually a township of over twelve thousand, but for a city girl like me, we may as well have been in Willawarrin).*

It was meant to be a relaxing weekend camping with the family in bushland that resembled the woods in The Blair Witch Project. The trees were tall and slender, unlike common thick gum trees and wild horses slurped from the pretty lake lined with daffodils. It didn’t feel like we were only two hours inland from the city.  I could have been lost somewhere in the majestic American wilderness we see on our movie screens.

My life had been busy lately, so I stretched out my limbs on the chair by the campfire, cracked open a beer and breathed in the fresh air with what I am sure was a fat smile stretched across my face. The adventure was panning out nicely. We ate scones that mum baked over the embers and played games my siblings and I loved as kids, from Truth or Dare to Spotlight, a game of hide and seek in the dark where the seeker can use only the beam of a torchlight.

Best camping trip ever.

Until the next morning.

Of course, Emma Jane (that’s me – clumsy, blonde, unsteady me) stepped on an ancient, rusty drill part that had clearly been in the ground for months, even years. Yep, that piece of nasty, corroded metal was probably untouched for a long time and of course I came along and impaled myself right on top of it. I went into shock, something I had never experienced before. I couldn’t stop trembling, my vision was blurry and I don’t remember much, except dad lifted me to a tent and lied me down where we waited for the ambulance.

Ambulance? No! I was just about to drive into town and retrieve fresh coffee! No! No! NO! I Waaant coffee!

‘Relax,’ my brother instructed, squeezing my hand. ‘You’re turning blue.’

Right. This may have been one of those times that I listened to someone when they told me to relax. I could die here.

Well, at the time it certainly felt like it. My niece was crying at the top of her lungs, holding me and promising me she would never leave me. ‘You’re my only Aunty!’ ‘You can find another one,’ my four year old nephew rolled his eyes and headed to the Esky to help himself to a drink. Aunties could be replaced was his philosophy as he sucked on his juice, clearly bored.

But, as I lied there awaiting the ambulance with my niece sobbing on my enhanced chest and my dad holding my leg in the air so the foreign rod in the sole of my foot didn’t touch the ground, I wondered, What if I did die?  What if this led to a life threatening infection? Or worse! What if my foot and leg was amputated?

Most people I know have a bucket list. They have considered all of the things they want to do before they die. I am forever going on about how the western world dismiss death and prefer to ignore its existence. I am drumming into brains that we need to acknowledge our mortality in order to live full and prosperous lives. But, here I was, on my metaphoric death bed and I have never even thought about a bucket list. And everyone else has! Was I the one who needed my head checked after all? (Don’t answer that).

I hadn’t thought about my funeral, what colour lipstick to wear during my open casket or how I would like my hair set by the mortician. (You know, the important stuff). I am faced with death every day as a funeral director and believe it or not, I have never even considered the things I would like to do before I die.                         I’m sure you’re thinking I’m a crazy hypocrite, continuously reminding the world to live life to the fullest! Achieve your dreams! Live everyday as if it’s your last! Love whole heartedly and tell your family you love them each day! And there I was with not even a bucket list.

But, then as I nuzzled into my niece’s strawberry scented hair as she sobbed, I realised, I didn’t need one. I am no hypocrite. I am the total opposite. I subconsciously live my life to the fullest every waking moment and I live my life so wonderfully, that really, (I mean this as un-morbidly as possible) it’s quite safe to say I would have died happy then and there. Mark Twain once said, A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. As the ambulance arrived and pain relief was pumped into my veins, I looked around at my wonderful loved ones and I was grateful for them. Then, as I was assessed and put to sleep, I revisited the years I spent travelling the world, hiking mountains, camping around New Zealand on my own and pitching a tent anywhere I liked. I made global friends, ate unusual foods and bathed in freshwater springs naked. And then, I thought about all of the souls I have buried and cremated. I thought about all of the families I have helped over the years, the hands I have held through grief, the hugs, the affirmations, the privilege. I was ridiculously blessed.

I don’t need a list to remind me to live fully, and not for one moment do I think it’s a bad idea if it works for you. Lists just aren’t for me. Gosh, I don’t even write a shopping list. All I am trying to say, maybe we don’t need to be so serious about it all, crossing off activities on wish lists. If you simply live in the moment, you will be pleasantly surprised at how many things you achieve and accomplish without even realising it. Of course, if swimming with Orcas in Iceland is on your bucket list it will require conscious effort and a travel agent, but I’m talking about inner peace. Love. Living each day as if it’s your last, just incase.

Lovey dovey stuff aside. I did learn one thing. You know how your grandma used to say ‘always wear fresh undies incase you’re in a car accident,’ or something along those lines? She was right.

On the Thursday before the camping trip, I was booked in for a pedicure. I missed the appointment but it didn’t matter. I was only going camping anyway, right? No one would notice my toes. The whole time I was lying on the ground with the drill part hanging out of my foot, I was so embarrassed at my rough feet, unclipped toenails and chipped varnish. Everyone laughed at the state of my feet and when the cute doctor assessed my wound, I cringed. Would he take a snap shot of my disgusting feet while I was sleeping and share it with his mates? ‘Hey Guys! Check out the ogre I have in emergency right now!’

So. I don’t have a bucket list. But I do have a new list. A list of grooming essentials before I go camping, just incase I end up going into emergency surgery, because let’s face it, when I’m around, there’ll always be be some sort of dilemma.

 

 

*Willawarrin is a tiny, remote country town with 304 residents. Consisting of a pub, a town hall and post office, you’ll miss it if you blink. I grew up here.

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The Cabinet maker (A history lesson) in the midst of Dying to Know Day

A few years ago, I giggled over my coffee cup listening to the ageing funeral directors deliver a history lesson in the lunch room. I found it unusual when they said our funeral home was once set in a furniture warehouse! That sounded so weird! A student of the death care industry, I listened attentively as they reminisced about the ‘Good Ol’ days,’ when they built the coffins themselves and the industry was run mainly by men.

‘Oh! Women have ruined it!” Bob, a-close-to-retiring funeral director scoffed, wiping his spectacles. He had been an undertaker for almost  thirty years. ‘Ever since women took charge, it’s been a bloody party! Balloons and bloody mints. I miss the days it was simple – a funeral was a bloody funeral. No bells and whistles!’

Recently, I was researching the history of funerals during the Victorian Era for a piece I was writing, and I discovered most funeral homes in fact, were part of a cabinet making or furniture business!

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Photo courtesy of ‘The Facts of Death.’ 1993
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Photo courtesy of ‘The Facts of Death.’ 1993

In the late 19th century, there were no funeral homes like we see today. Instead, there were “Undertaking Establishments.” These were an office used only for the transactions and paperwork and were usually attached to a livery barn or cabinet making factory. Many of the early undertakers were furniture makers and building caskets was an extension of their business. For them, undertaking was a second business rather than a primary profession – they built the coffins as well as their usual products. The farewell took place in the home where the family kept the body from decomposing by using large bags of ice, no fancy mortuaries or body holding fridges! The family often washed and dressed their loved one themselves and if they did not feel comfortable bathing the deceased, they would call a professional “Layer out of the dead.”

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Photo courtesy of ‘The Facts of Death.’ 1993

In fact, if you died in a hospital, it meant you had no family to take care of you. If you were apart of a family and fell ill, medical operations were carried out in the home and if you died, well, you stayed there.

Today, death is ushered out the door pretty quickly, and some family (not all) shy away from the corpse as if it was contaminated. They leave the deceased alone in the room where they died until we, the professionals, swoop in with our gloves and stretchers to whisk them away to a place of mystery. I wish the western world were not so closed off to death and embraced the inevitable. Only days short of Dying to Know Day, I would like to announce: acknowledging death is healthy and kissing your deceased loved one on the hand or forehead is not going to harm you! Planning end of life is not morbid or macabre- accepting our final destination can actually help you lead a full and prosperous life!

I think we can all learn a thing or two from the history lesson of the Funeral. Bring back the days were families pitch in and help prep their loved ones, embracing their death and getting involved.

Want to join the conversation?

Visit http://www.dyingtoknowday.org