Wrap it Up PR & Communications have been working with Soulfull Collective for the last two weeks speaking to Leigh Meinert about the first South African conference on death and dying to be held in Cape Town, South Africa as well as some of the guest speakers and session hosts about preparing for the inevitable. Read their story below...
The first South African conference on death and dying as a life affirming transition will be held in Cape Town from 7 to 8 February, drawing together a diverse group of end of life doulas, nurses, doctors, psychologists, bereavement counsellors, palliative care providers and religious leaders to share the growing knowledge, best practices and resources available on providing emotional and spiritual care at the end of life or in the event of a sudden death.
“Engaging and talking about death is positive and life affirming, because it brings death front and centre and helps me clarify how I want to live my life now,” explains Leigh Meinert from Soulfull Collective, the “for abundance” company responsible for hosting the conference.
Intrigued by the global trend of professional ‘end of life doulas’ or ‘soul midwives’, Meinert’s search in South Africa led her to find 150 people who, like her, wanted to learn more about how to provide emotional and spiritual support through dying and death.
One of the conference speakers is Felicity Warner, the founder of SOUL MIDWIVES. Through the UK-based organisation, Warner has pioneered an international movement in holistic and spiritual palliative care for more than 20 years. Her methods are now applied globally in hospices, hospitals and care homes.
While the conference will draw on the work of end of life practitioners, carers and experts overseas, the knowledge and experiences of local speakers and session hosts are grounded in the South African context.
Local speakers include Dr Mary Ryan, a theologian, ordained priest and care practitioner with many years’ experience as a home-based caregiver and the coordinator of the Soul Carers Network. Ryan, who runs a training programme for Soul Carers in Cape Town, will discuss The Context and the Opportunities in South Africa for Greater Integration of Soul Care in End of Life Care. There will also be sessions held by end of life counsellor Keshnie Mathi, who will discuss Emotional and Spiritual Counselling during Death and Dying, as well as Dr Helena Dolny and Ngiphiwe Mhlangu who will facilitate the Love Legacy Dignity: Why conversations about mortality are life affirming session.
Mathi is the founder of End of Life Supportive Alliance (ELSA), an alliance that helps educate the public on the various end of life practitioners and options in South Africa, and links the public to individuals who can support them. She is also the creator of a unique End of Life Counselling training course, which is recognised by the Association for Supportive Counsellors and Holistic Practitioners, and enables individuals to offer holistic support to persons who are dying – from diagnosis through to their final journey – and their families.
“End of life counselling is about providing care, but also ensuring that those left behind are not traumatised by the experience, and death.”
According to Mathi, while there are many South African communities that observe various rituals and traditions associated with death, speaking openly about death before it happens is not as common in this country. This leaves people feeling unprepared, which adds to feelings of helplessness and dread.
However, for those who are dying, end of life counsellors can help them to “unpack their past and make peace with their regrets” while families can be assisted on their bereavement journey too.
“With the global movement of mindfulness, our clients are vocalising different bedside regrets. The most common ones are that they feel they did not find their purpose, or that they did not leave a legacy. It’s why I always say, you can learn how to live now, by listening to the words of the dying,” adds Mathi.
This is where Dolny and Mhlangu’s work comes in. Through their organisation, Love Legacy Dignity, Dolny and Mhlangu are teaching people how to live while also preparing for their deaths through talks and workshops on topics from relationship mapping, releasing and renewing through forgiveness, to creating an advance healthcare directive and nominating a health care proxy.
Dolny, who is the author of Before Forever After – When conversations about living meet questions about dying, is also an international leadership coach and trained rites of passage guide. She has spent most of her life living closely with death. As an ANC member during apartheid and the wife of the late Joe Slovo, she had to make peace with the possibility of having her husband’s life cut short.
For Dolny the why of the work she does is clear: “We suffer when loved ones die. We suffer even more when certain conversations haven’t happened.”
“I think that when we live with the strong presence and awareness of our own mortality and the fact that our death could happen anytime, then we live more consciously and less carelessly. We become more careful about our intentions, what matters most to us, and the state of our relationships at any given moment.”
Mhlangu, who worked in the news industry for 25 years and has covered many topical stories like the Marikana massacre and former President Nelson Mandela’s passing, first started speaking about death in her own life when her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer 16 years ago. This announcement prompted Mhlangu to start a conversation with her mother about how she wanted to die.
“This was a culture shock in my family, because in Zulu culture, a young girl is not supposed to take control of her mother’s affairs or decide on matters relating to how her mother wanted to spend the last days of her life. It was hard to get buy-in from the rest of the family, whose world views are firmly grounded in Zulu patriarchal culture. My mother had to step in and inform everyone that a well-planned funeral and fewer cultural rituals was her dying wish,” explains Mhlangu.
“We suffered less, because we were not questioning our decisions around every turn.”
While it may seem more commonplace to talk about death and dying when someone has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or when people become older, Mathi, Dolny and Mhlangu all agree that the conversation needs to happen whether one is young and healthy or not.
“We live in a world where people die unexpectedly or after a short or long illness. Making decisions about death and dying before we’re in a crisis situation allows us to think about our options deeply, consult with people like family, friends and doctors, and live life knowing that our wishes have been made clear. As a journalist I have told several stories about death and dying and families being torn apart because of conversations that never happened,” adds Mhlangu.
For the full programme and more information about the speakers, visit: https://soulfull.co.za/spaces/midwifery-and-dying-conference/
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Ms Lynne Rippenaar-Moses Mrs Keshnie Mathi
Wrap it Up PR & Communications Conference Media Liaison
Cell: +27 73 534 5560 Cell: +27 61 462 7419
E-mail: Lynne@wrapstrat.co.za E-mail: email@example.com