When the world heard about the death of Phillip Hughes from a freak cricket accident, something remarkable happened. There was an outpouring of grief, compassion and care, not just in his hometown, but around the world. People placed their cricket bats outside their front door, their sporting clubs, schools and workplaces, as a tribute to a young man's life. While the initial focus was on the tragic way that Phillip died, attention quickly moved to how he lived, what he stood for in life, and the impact he had on friends, family, sport and community. What we witnessed was a how to guide on living a fulfilling life - full of passion, purpose, mateship and joy - even though it had ended too soon.
Recently I attended a summer party at The School of Life and had a chance to try a taster of some of their upcoming classes. Not afraid of broaching the hard topics of life, Pierz Newton John, introduced us to his upcoming class on Mortality, to be held at Melbourne Cemetery. At first glance it seems like a somewhat morbid, and for many, scary kind of adventure - to examine mortality from a place of death. On closer inspection, however, it is perhaps more of an exploration on how we live our lives, and how to not fear this thing that eventually reaches us all. While it felt akward to start talking to strangers (or friends I had just met) about death, our conversation slowly turned into a thought provoking, engaging, heartfelt and humour filled discussion.
We talked about what it would look like to have a "good" death. I realised that for me I was less concerned about how or when I might die, and more about the wake. Coming from a Scottish family I have been to some cracking wakes in my life. My grandmother's wake was a mix of sadness, relief, stories, laughter, reunion with family and friends, and reflection on how Granny Marjory had chosen to live her life. Throughout the afternoon and into the night we talked about my grandmother's life, and more broadly about the cultural and historical influences on her, from war, to patriarchy, to small town Scottish values. There was also good food, plenty of whiskey and granny's favourite musician playing in the background - Daniel O'Donnell (an overheard wake conversation between two Scottish relatives: "Ye ken Marjory had tea with Daniel's mither?" "Nae wey!" "Aye, she did.")
So, I have resolved that if I am still alive by my eighth decade, I am going to host my own wake. I hate to miss out on a party, and also want to be there to witness this celebration of my own life, values and connections. Perhaps, given I hope to be alive at my own wake, I will have to call it an "A-wake". Between now and then I think it is my duty to prepare the playlist, nurture my friendships and ensure I give the important people in my life something worthwhile to talk about at my A-wake - good, bad, ugly and adventurous.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jo Mitchell, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, Auntie to nine amazing young people, lives with her partner Matt and cat Chico in Melbourne, and loves psychology, technology, and re-mixology. Jo is Co-Director of The Mind Room, a wellbeing and performance psychology practice in Collingwood, and Wellbeing Manager for the AFL Players Association.