Let's talk about death, baby
Ways to start important conversations.
Kia ora and welcome to The Weekend, your go-to for good links, good vibes and good ideas from The Spinoff and around the internet. This week, we’ve been talking about death on The Spinoff for our Death Week series. It’s been very thought-provoking: one thing I noticed as I wrote a feature about what death means for our digital identities was how much I wanted to apologise to the people I was interviewing for talking about a sensitive subject. Obviously, it’s a topic that needs care but is also (self-evidently) part of life — I hope you appreciate the opportunity to think about death as an industry, a reality and an opportunity for conversation as much as I have.
- Shanti Mathias, staff writer
Staff writer Gabi Lardies interviews hospice workers and two people who are dying about what they want people to know when it comes to talking about it. What did she learn? “It doesn’t have to be scary — I don’t know why I thought it was a scary thing,” she told me. “People who are dying are, of course, just ordinary people.” Gabi also attended a Death Cafe, part of a series of events around the world where strangers are invited to come together to discuss death — not as something abstract, but as something that will one day happen to them. “I was excited in a morbid way,” Gabi says. “But the conversation was more about how best to live your life. The facilitator told me afterwards that every conversation is different, and sometimes they do talk more about the reality of death too.”
The Spinoff has been rolling out features profiling some of the locations investigated by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care through our Quarter Million series. My colleague Tommy wrote this feature about a “boot camp” for troubled youth on Great Barrier Island that ran until the early 2000s. Scott Carr, a survivor who he spoke to, described how the shadow of these events has touched his whole life, describing himself as “a man with no dreams” because of the lifelong effects of the abuse he suffered. “I don’t have the skills to bring up my teenagers because my teenage life went off the rocks,” he tells Tommy. This is difficult stuff to read and write about, but it’s so important to understand how institutions in power betrayed the trust given to them so profoundly.
Number of the week: $8,000 is the average cost of a funeral
Part of Death Week (brought to you by AA Life Insurance) is exploring death as an industry. Burials, caskets and funerals all have a cost, and New Zealand is among the most expensive places to die. As with everything, there’s a good deal of inequality in funerals, which Stewart Sowman-Lund delves into this week; WINZ offers emergency grants and ACC helps with the costs of deaths caused by accidents. However, this doesn’t cover the entire cost of most funerals. Stewart asks politicians about whether there is any desire to change this and finds limited support — except from now-independent MP Elizabeth Kerekere.
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All week, football teams have been playing elimination rounds in the FIFA World Cup. This means more than one tragic loss through a penalty shootout — including the US, the number one ranked team. Mad Chapman considers the “cruel and unnecessarily stressful” phenomenon of shootouts, which don’t require the same skills as the rest of gameplay, but can define a match nonetheless. She considers alternatives: reducing the number of players in extra time until someone scores, for instance, allows exciting game play and encourages attacking, not defending.
Before medical students learn to examine living bodies, they practice on dead ones: cadavers generously donated by people who want their bodies to educate the next generation of doctors. Writer T. Black takes a deep dive into how this process works in New Zealand, talking to people working at med schools, people who have signed up to donate their bodies after their deaths and students. Today, med schools talk with students about ethics and tikanga around the practice, which provides invaluable learning. “Our understanding of the human body is built upon thousands of years of research which has been stymied or advanced depending on the current zeitgeist of the time, religious beliefs, ethical debates, and access to bodies,” Black writes. “We are indebted to the people whose bodies are dissected, contributing to the knowledge we have today.”
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