NEW INTERVIEW: Molly Carlile — more commonly known as The Death Talker — looks forward to the day when conversations about death and grief are as commonplace as conversations about sex, celebrities and politics. An ambassador for Dying To Know Day, Molly details how she began her unconventional career, the inspiration behind this inaugural event and why it’s so important to foster these conversations.
You are known as the Deathtalker. What exactly do you do?
I talk about death, grief and life in the community, to health professionals and at conferences in Australia and internationally.
How and why did you get into this career?
I looked after my first dying patient when I was a very junior nurse. She was a young woman, struggling with how to talk to her children about her impending death and it made me realise that people need a whole lot more than physical pain relief when they are dying (though that is important). That lady inspired me to challenge my own fears and apprehensions about not being able to ‘fix’ every patient I cared for and that my idea of ‘fixing’ things was often very different from the actual need of each individual person I was likely to care for. From that point I was committed to true, holistic, person-centred care, which set me on a path of learning that continues to this day. I specialised in palliative care, then studied, counselling, then grief and bereavement, then I did an education degree and a company director’s diploma, all of these things evolved as I tried to know myself better and find a way of informing others and empowering to take back ownership of their own death. This evolved into years of teaching, talking but most importantly LISTENING to the experiences of people and taking on board the wisdom their stories contained. I consider myself really fortunate to have found my ‘niche’ very early in my career and never would have dreamed that a single experience would define my future path or that it would include becoming an author and playwright. To date I’ve had a most fortunate life.
Have you personally experienced the loss of a loved one?
My Dad deteriorated slowly over a number of years during which we became even closer than we’d been in the past. I looked after him for the last two weeks of his life and stroked his hair and spoke quietly to him as he took his last breaths. I nursed him, I counselled him and supported him, but at the end of the day, he was more than a patient… he was my Dad. This was an enlightening experience for me on a number of levels and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it, sad though I was when he died. Not sad for him, but sad for me, for our family, having to keep going without him.
Were you able to talk openly about your loss and your feelings with those around you?
When you’re the partner, the children, the siblings and the Mum of “The Deathtalker,” these conversations are commonplace! My own family and my extended family all talk openly about death and grief and I hope that’s got a tiny bit to do with me making it a safe conversation. We talked a lot about Dad’s death… we still do, nine years later. But mostly we talk about him. We tell his stories (and try to improve on them). We sing his songs. We use his wacky sayings and on his birthday, at Christmas… in fact whenever we get together, we compare our memories of Dad. We cried a lot at first, now mostly we laugh… my Dad was a funny bloke!
You are the ambassador for Dying to Know Day. What and when is this inaugural event?
Dying to Know Day is being celebrated for the first time on August 8th 2013… this week! It’s a day dedicated to having meaningful conversations about death and grief, life and legacy. But it’s not just about THE DAY… it’s about encouraging people to inform themselves and to become empowered so that meaningful conversations can happen when they need to without people feeling too scared or anxious about initiating them… any time, any where. I’m proud to be the Dying to Know Day Ambassador… I firmly believe “the more we talk, the less we fear”… that’s my motto.
What was the inspiration behind it and what does it hope to achieve?
Dying to Know Day on August 8th encourages all Australians to take action toward more open and honest conversations about death, dying and bereavement. Inspired by the Igniting Change book Dying to know, D2K Day is a not for profit community day of action initiated by The GroundSwell Project. The aim of Dying to Know Day is to encourage all Australians to develop new knowledge and attitudes about how to deal with death and bereavement and support each other at the end of life. Dying to Know Day inspires local initiatives and promotes information to enable all Australians to discuss and plan their wishes.
Why is it so important to foster conversations about death and grief?
It concerns me that people of my generation still struggle with the reality of their own mortality. I despair sometimes at western culture’s obsession with youth and beauty and feel for people who succumb to the pressure to meet these unrealistic expectations. All of this happens because we are ill informed and ill equipped to have meaningful conversations about aging, death and grief. We need to rediscover the importance of connecting on an intergenerational level, to learn from older people and to nurture and support younger people. It is only then that we will be able to talk openly and honestly about death, our fears and apprehensions, our hopes and dreams. These are the conversations that inform and empower people to face the inevitability of their own death and equip them to support friends and family who are grieving. I look forward to the day when conversations about death and grief are as commonplace as conversations about sex, celebrities and politics. It is only then that we will have become a truly compassionate society that nurtures and cares for its vulnerable members. Only then will grieving people suffer in isolation, if that’s THEIR CHOICE, not because they have to.
How can people get involved in Dying to Know Day?
They can check out the website. There are a number of events happening all over Australia, these are listed here. You can also join the conversation on Facebook or start a conversation with the people you love – here are some tips, ideas and resources.