Sitting down to share a cup of coffee at Helen L’Orange’s local coffee shop, Botanica Garden Cafe, she explained immediately her enthusiasm for a project that faces death realistically and encourages people to engage with it at a community level – and not, say, just as a hospital or medical experience.
“It’s the subtitle of your book that captured our attention ‘a compassionate and practical guide to prepare for the end of life ’,” she said.
Healthy Active Ageing
Helen is President of the Waverton Hub, a community group with a passion for ‘healthy active ageing’, and believe it or not, this fits very neatly with planning for a good death.
Waverton is a suburb on Sydney’s lower north shore. Through The Hub community programs, activities and classes are all organised. But the business model means low membership fees are paid, with plenty of high quality yet free activities.
This makes it very affordable and exciting to be part of – it has about 300 members. As well, The Hub encourages all members to find six buddies and connects members to local services such as the Crows Nest Centre and Community Transport.
“We have a program called ‘This Ageing Business’. There are five or six of these talks a year and your talk will be one of them. We see it as a neat fit, to have guidance on how to prepare for death – after all, planning for a good death is really part of living a healthy, active old age.
“The community and social connections we help people create through The Hub provide the important links that can support people to the very end of life,” Helen explained.
If members of The Hub are happier and have more engaged lives because they are doing things together – exercising, singing Christmas carols, hearing stimulating talks, going out and celebrating life together, it flows from that that they’ll have the supports in place to help each other when a member is facing death.
Helen gave a good example. One of the members of the Hub was the main carer for her husband. As his medical needs became greater towards the end of his life, she was able to rely on the help, support and friendships that she had formed through The Hub to keep going in her role as carer. So when the end came, her husband was able to die at home, she was able to care for him there and she knew she had both the practical and emotional support of people in her community, who had a bond with both of them.
“It meant that death could happen at home, in the community,” Helen explained.
“When someone from the Waverton Hub is dying we go and visit that person. If they have a partner we support the partner and let people know.
“We’re there and those who are close go to the funeral. We might be asked to help and be involved in the wakes for our people and this is something we like to be able to do for each other. We like to be part of celebrating people’s lives – and that’s something we want to do at the end of that life too.’
No ‘Sunset Lodge’ mentality here
“I think facing death honestly helps you have a better life in your later years. But that’s not to say we have a ‘Sunset Lodge’ mentality. We see ourselves in the light of healthy, active ageing. This means making the most of life and continuing to contribute to society. For example, like Vera who runs our Tai Chi classes.”
The idea behind A Good Death: a compassionate and practical guide to prepare for the end of life is to help to make today’s deaths more bearable through better connections – with each other and through a better understanding of what’s involved.
So it’s exciting to see The Waverton Hub so interested in the ideas. There are 11 ‘steps’ in the book to help prepare. These are each laid out in their own chapter. For example, some are about social aspects, some are about managing legal aspects, some are about dealing with the medical system when dying.
When we meet up, Helen has asked for a focus on preparing your paperwork, and knowing your frailty index, two of the topics covered in the book.
A Good Death: a compassionate and practical guide to prepare for the end of life can be bought online or through bookshops.
No need to book, just turn up.
Margaret Rice will be speaking at 2pm Tuesday 4 February at the Waverton Community Hall 75 Bay road Waverton – very close to the railway station. All welcome. No need to book. Just turn up.
The Waverton Hub team are keen to share the secret to their success with others. Would you like to create such a Hub in your community? Go to: http://wavertonhub.com.au/
To read about another community that is combining joyous living with good preparation for death, go to: https://good-grief.com.au/the-kiwi-coffin-club/ (Last time we heard, the Coffin Club was expanding into sites in Australia. Get in touch with your from an Aussie branch that has a story to share.)
To find out more about the background to compassionate communities, go to: https://www.thegroundswellproject.com/new-blog/2018/1/31/announcing-the-compassionate-communities-forum-and-digital-hub
Or make contact with an active ‘compassionologist, Gillian Hall, on the Sunshine Coast go to: http://www.dulongfutures.com/2019/02/11/sunshine-coast-compassionate-communities-linking-through-words-and-stories/