Opinion: Thoughts on Final Words

Graham Woods
Graham Woods

There was a moment, sitting beside the bed of a dear friend who was dying in hospital, when I realized I was witnessing such a human experience. I knew that the more I explored what all this meant, the more I would start to understand how death informs us about life. Following his death, as I watched the funeral directors handle his body, wheeling him to their waiting vehicle, it became clear to me I was being denied a chance to say goodbye to my friend in a humane and needed way. At the door of the hospital they said, ‘That’s as far as you go, we’ll take it from here.’ There has to be a better way. From that experience more than six years ago, Roseneath resident Barb Phillips came up with an idea; What about organizing casual gatherings to share people’s experiences with death and dying? Confront what is, for so many, a tough subject? From those thoughts emerged the unique Death Cafe.

Ahh, funerals. So often scripted, impersonal, sometimes theatrical events, the person in the casket seemingly ignored. And, so often, death is a subject so quickly changed. I’ve reached an age when death and funerals are part of life and throughout my own I’ve so often avoided the subject; but, recently, acknowledging advancing years, I’ve given some thought to the fact I’m in the zone. Over the years, life being the way it is, death has been forced into my consciousness; 3 working colleagues killed in a plane crash, another in a motorcycle accident; family members and friends, some reaching old age after a full life, others too soon. But, quickly, I moved on, avoiding any closeness with the subject. Just this past week though, watching television news, the crawl announced the death of another colleague from my earlier working life, giving me pause to consider my brief encounters.

I have given eulogies, helped carry caskets to their final resting place; written in this space about friends from our community who died. Or passed away or passed on. Looking back over my life I had some close calls and luck; as a six year old in England living through the Blitz, first the bombs and, later, flying bombs and V2 rockets, which always seemed, with my good fortune, to land one street over from our cold, darkened, shaking air-raid shelter, the explosions muffled by sandbags. Once, on assignment in rainy weather, the motorbike I was riding slid onto its side sending me sprawling into the on-coming lane. Fortunately, there was no traffic at that moment. And during two heart attacks and subsequent bypass surgery, it never occurred to me that I might not survive. Until four months later that is, having dinner in Quebec City and, out of left field, it hit me with a vengeance, literally bringing me to tears. I could have died. 

Thanks to Barb Phillips and the Death Cafe, opening next Tuesday, May 29th at Meet At 66 King Street East (parking in the rear) there’s an opportunity to talk, have a conversation about death, become more familiar with not only the preparation for a death and a home funeral but, so importantly, how to handle the aftermath of loss. A home funeral, you ask? Just like in the olden days? The evening will offer three speakers telling of the different choices and options of before and after death care, sharing their personal stories of why, how, and what it meant to create a family home funeral. Yes, talking about death as one would about the weather. A normal subject. The doors open at 6.30pm, the evening commencing at 7.00. A very different, not-to-be-missed evening. Admission is free – donations accepted.

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An important subject to get comfortable with. Great of Barb to arrange this Death Cafe. Curious? You’ll probably find it an enlightening and uplifting experience!


“That is as far as you go. We’ll take it from here”. Can you not hear St. Peter saying that at the Pearly Gates and would you not smile and say “thanks”.


Many years ago, I received a phone call from Seven Oaks Nursing Home while at work one morning, advising me to come immediately. I had received many similar calls regarding my 91 year old mother – but this time was to be the last – my mother had succumbed to a major heart attack. When I arrived, staff lead me to her room and gave me time alone with her. Later that day, I received a phone call from the home advising me that I must claim her personal belongings within 24 hours since the room was being prepared for its next occupant – and so I arrived the following day to do so. Imagine my shock when told I needed to go to the basement of the institution and find a green garbage bag containing all my mother’s possessions! Nobody accompanied me – and no one was in the bowels of the basement to help me. There I was, so alone, looking for a garbage bag! It seemed so wrong that someone I loved so dearly had her life’s worth represented by a garbage bag! It was heartbreaking and an unforgettable experience. I hope my children are more blessed… Read more »