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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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Talking About Death, Celebrating Life

YODO! No, it’s not a new greeting. It’s shorthand for You Only Die Once, so why not make it a good death? There has never been a better time to get talking about those “face behind a cushion” topics we’d all rather pretend weren’t going to happen. At least, not to us.

The international Death Cafe movement has been encouraging us to share what’s on our mind about death, dying and bereavement since 2011 when Jon Underwood set up the first Death Cafe meeting in Hackney, washed down with tea and sweetened with a bit of cake. Over 6000 meetings in 56 countries have been held to date but you won’t find negativity on the menu.

It’s a safe space run with no agenda, no aim to convert to a belief or sign up to a philosophy of life (or death). No one is under pressure to do or say anything. No long lectures or guest speakers pontificating, no funeral services representatives trying to sell you a plan. Just you, others like you and the facilitator wanting to share what’s on their mind. To find out about a meeting in your area or to see what’s involved should you want to set one up, visit www.deathcafe.org Follow them on Twitter @DeathCafe

Let’s get back to YODO. Being near Birmingham, I shall be attending A Matter of Life and Death Festival (May 10th – 26th), an arts of cultural programme of events with death as a core theme. BrumYODO is a local collective set up with the aim of helping the people of Birmingham have more open and honest conversations about death and dying. The collective describes themselves as “a growing group of artists, undertakers, food artists, hospices, palliative care professionals and generally all-round interesting folk. http://brumyodo.org.uk/matter-life-death/

So why am I so passionate about the need to talk about all things mortal?

As someone who has suffered from death anxiety (thanatophobia) ever since my Grandad died when I was ten (fifty years ago), I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Part of any fear is driven by not owning it. Bringing it out into the open is one way of disempowering that fear and empowering ourselves. In doing so, we add more value and quality into our daily lives by making every moment count.

            I’ve attended a number of Death Cafe meetings which have provided the inspiration for my latest novel, EDNA’S DEATH CAFE, set in the Derbyshire Peak District, my childhood stomping ground. Fiction can often reach parts that other communication channels cannot. We can be alone with a book, argue with the characters, ponder on their words and reflect on their lives, hopefully to find resonance with ours.

            I’ll be writing more about the book, about bereavement and my work as a newly trained funeral celebrant. I’ll leave you with my favourite bit of philosophy. Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside is while we live. Norman Cousins.

Edna’s Death Cafe will be published by Matador in September 2018. Keep up to date with the news on Twitter. Follow @Angelena Boden @matadorbooks

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The Villain in Your Life

             Even as a child, Christmas pantomimes with their exaggerated posturing, never appealed to me as a relaxing form of entertainment. I’d nibble on my finger nails at the appearance of the villain, an essential foil to the hero/heroine of the story, wishing the witch, demon or wicked stepmother would literally break a leg and be carted off the stage if only to give my jangling nerves a rest.

            Writing this blog in pantomime season, has made me think about the villains in our own lives. I’d be surprised if they included snow queens or giants but our minds are constantly seeking out a personal villain, a fall guy, on which to pin blame. This might be an individual or a group, a society or a government. The hot potato of self-blame burns the skin from our fingers so we are impelled to toss it into the ownership of “other.”

            Is this done consciously? In the main no. Through projection we seem to edit the truth in order to quell the uncomfortable disturbances in the psyche or sense of self.  When I first studied the ego’s defence mechanisms back in the early eighties, it took me a long time to get my head round the idea of this powerful defence mechanism.

Simply put, it’s seeing our traits reflected in another. As an example, telling someone they are too slow or they never stop moaning, is an unowned aspect of our own personality. In other words, we don’t want to own the negative traits so we pin them onto someone else.

           

Like Carl Jung, I have a deep interest in the shadow part of the personality. This is the unconscious mind, a repository for unspeakable tendencies and beliefs: prejudice, hatred, a desire to harm as well as positive traits and abilities which are denied or unknown. As this isn’t an essay on Jung or the incorporation of the shadow in therapy, I will point you to a readable article on this subject here. http://bit.ly/2C41XE4

            The villain in our lives makes its appearance through the projection of this shadow, usually the negative aspect, onto “the other.”  This makes it easy to blame and not take personal responsibility as it’s always someone else’s fault.

I must point out that I’m not referring to situations where clearly the villain is to blame; crime, adverse government policy, corrupt businesses and any other situation where we are left vulnerable and powerless to alter the course of events. I do get tired of hearing some professionals talking about choosing your reaction when you can’t choose outcome as if acknowledging a need to punch someone in the face is a sign of being out of control.

I’ve experienced so many situations with clients who need to be angry, express their fear and anxiety and violent thoughts before they can even reach the point of choosing acceptance. Some of us can’t turn around that tank so quickly.

            So back to blame. It does serve a purpose. It protects self –esteem and ego since you don’t have to face your own imperfections and present as someone weak and inadequate. I hold an opposite view. It shows strength and honesty when we put up our hands and say “It was me. I’m sorry.”

           

As a long time specialist in behaviour (Transactional Analysis graduate) I define behaviour simply as everything we say and everything we do. If I say something offensive to you then I have chosen to do so. With that choice come consequences. You might not speak to me again or you may wish to defend yourself and hit back. Words might tumble out of my mouth unfiltered but I am still responsible for them.

            Only those lacking in emotional maturity will continue to say, “He made me do it.”  “It’s your fault I’m overweight. You stress me out.”  No. No. No. Unless you are being held to ransom with a gun at your head (or similar) then you make the majority of your choices. It’s only when they don’t work out that we need the villain – partner, parent, boss, fate and God. Choices are made within a context which I think influences how much responsibility we take for them. 

            As we go into 2018, maybe it’s time to hold the mirror up to ourselves and be honest as it’s so easy to lie.  Wasn’t me, Sir!  The villain in your life might not be anybody other than….. yourself.

                       

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