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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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Cheating Death

Would you pay $200,000 to have your dead body preserved in liquid nitrogen and hung upside down in a sleeping bag, until medicine advances far enough to cure the disease that killed you? Cryonics might promise you immortality or at least offer to add years onto your life at some point in the future. No guarantees, mind.

A growing number of people are buying into this hope of a physical resurrection. But why? How will these ex-dead fit into a world that has moved on or maybe has experienced a nuclear war? I would never want to live back in my home town again, not because I don’t love it but because we no longer fit together, so why on earth would I want to come back to life. Done that, the T shirts are in the charity shop.

With the world’s population expected to break the 8 billion barrier by 2030, this will put even more pressure on the planet to provide resources for a world already struggling to feed its people.  I have to question what lies behind this greed. After all, it’s pure luck that any of us have been given the gift of life in the first place.

Never one to believe in unnecessary end-of-life intervention at the expense of the quality of life,, I think it’s the responsibility of the death industry to talk more about what it means to let go of life as we know it and embrace the end with equanimity and gratitude.

Religion used to give us permission to leave this world anticipating some sort of life eternal providing we behaved according to divine law. Now we look to holding back the tide with cosmetic surgery, dietary fads which promise to add years to your life and super technology to promise a new physical life in maybe a hundred years’ time.  It’s nonsense. It’s a denial of death which to my mind is triggered by fear- of nothingness, non-existence, the grave, of being forgotten, for not having made the most of the opportunities, doing what we came here to do ( if we can ever work that out), for making mistakes, hurting people but most of all of not being able to turn back the clock or hold back the tide. As time marches on we feel powerless and out of control.  A sense of doom pervades our later years when we could be feeling joyous. We made it that far.

We plead with the doctors, mumble through a half-remembered prayer from childhood to quell the panic. It becomes all about us, me, unaware that over 100 billion human beings have trod this path before us and have returned to specks of stardust.  They’re just fine.

We fight the inevitable and in our anguish and exhaustion we fail to soak up the intensity of that moment – the lilac tree blossom outside our window, a fluttering red admiral butterfly, the squeeze of a loved one’s hand.

In his deeply moving book, Waiting For The Last Bus,  Richard Holloway reminds us that instead of there being sorrow for what death will take from us, we can choose to let it reveal the beauty of the world. https://amzn.to/2JFwA55

Those promoting Mindfulness are onto something.

We groan under the towering boulders of regret, knowing that one day we will be a distant memory handed down in the sketchy narrative to our descendants who might wonder for a moment or two about our life before returning greedily back to theirs.

Dylan Thomas said, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night….. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

I don’t agree with this. There’s no point in fighting the inevitable. Death was always part of the plan.  A calm and gracious acceptance is what I hope for my final goodbye. I am mentally prepared and that gives meaning to everything I say and do.

If just one person remembers me for doing my best and will forgive me for straying from that, on the grounds that I’m human, then what more could I want?

Being able to die in peace, is knowing when enough is enough. That peace comes from being able to forgive yourself.

My new novel  Edna’s Death Café, Talking about death, celebrating life. Out Sept 2018   

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/ednas-death-cafe/

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Edna's Death Cafe

As in life, death is not without its agenda. This is something seventy-nine year old Edna Reid finds out when her partner, Ted, suddenly dies.

To cope with her loss, she sets up a Death Café to break down the taboo around death and to encourage other members of the community to discuss it openly. Over tea and cake, the participants hide their fears behind a veil of dark humour.

Religious fanaticism clashes with Victorian spiritualism as Edna’s meetings trigger lively conversations on the fragility of life, anxiety over dying, cost of funerals, and making sure long-lost greedy relatives don’t benefit from inheritances. 

Soon, a series of events begin to unfold which threaten to undermine Edna’s livelihood and the Death Café meetings. These events just happen to coincide with the arrival of a mysterious stranger into the village.

Who is she and why is she so hostile to Edna?

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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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