Transforming Death into Art

Above: Rosebud, photograph of painting on glass from Aralyn Doiron's Storyteller Series

October 2, 2022
Transforming Death into Art
Death in Print: My Mother and Other Secrets by Wendyl Nissen and Remember Me by Charity Norman, Meet: Deathwalker and artist Aralyn Doiron, Death on Screen: Trail of Light and Giving Back to the Earth by Green Renaissance
Listen to Episode 10 on the following podcast platforms
Or, if you've already listened to the show, scroll down for more info and links . . .
The Forgotten Epidemic?
Photo by Jacob,_(1961_%E2%80%93_2006).jpg#/media/File:Richard_Carlson,_(1961_–_2006).jpg
In this episode, I want to unashamedly plug the session called 'The Forgotton Epidemic?' at the Nelson Arts Festival later this month. As my regular listeners probably know, I am the curator and programme manager of Pukapuka Talks, the festival’s literary programme. This year, I will be working with the fabulous Nelson Arts Festival team to deliver 18 events.

In the 'The Forgotton Epidemic?', bestselling authors Charity Norman and Wendyl Nissen join me on stage to facilitate a kōrero about what works when it comes to dementia treatment and care and what desperately needs to change to ensure our loved ones can die with dignity.

This session will explore how these two authors transformed death into art; both Charity and Wendyl have ‘been through the fire’ of supporting a parent with dementia, and their experiences enabled them to write two astonishing books.

Charity’s mother Beryl died with Alzheimer’s in 2016 and Wendyl’s mother Elsie died with the same disease in 2019. This is a really personal topic for me as my mum Robyn was finally diagnosed with both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia a couple of years ago. I say finally because she had memory loss for some time before that, which caused her a great deal of anxiety, but a diagnosis was, for many years, elusive.

I know I’m not alone. So I invited Wendyl and Charity to join me in Nelson to discuss what happens when a parent gets dementia and how to respond initially as well as how their immediate whānau attempt to understand and process the experience afterwards.

In Charity Norman’s case, she wrote Remember Me, a compelling novel about a 40-something woman called Emily returning to Aotearoa to care for her father who has dementia. The story is also a ‘whodunnit’, as Emily gradually finds out the truth about the disappearance of their neighbour’s daughter 25 years earlier. When Catherine Woulfe, then The Spinoff books editor, described the novel as 'extraordinarily moving in its exploration of the notion of a good death', she concluded that one can't write a book like this without a real story behind it. So this Pukapuka Talks session is your opportunity to hear that real story.

Wendyl Nissen also attempted to come to terms with her mother’s final years by writing about it; in her case, a moving and often funny memoir called My Mother and Other Secrets.

In doing so, she unexpectedly exposed numerous skeletons in the family closet. Determined to uncover the buried truth, Wendyl’s journalistic training led her to some wild and intriguing stories of loss, grief, and love. My Mother and Other Secrets is a story about mothers and daughters, ageing, and the way deep family traumas echo across generations, spliced with practical advice.

So please join Charity, Wendyl and myself at The Forgotten Epidemic? at 3pm on Friday October 21, when we’ll consider how best to support a loved with dementia, discuss how to look after yourself in the process, examine theories about the contributing factors – genetics, nutrition, insomnia, physical inactivity, emotional repression – and look at what the latest science says about prevention.

The question mark in the session title is, by the way, deliberate because it seems to me that, although dementia impacts on so many families’ lives it is another one of those tricky taboo topics that we don’t talk about enough.
Meet Aralyn Doiron
Aralyn Doiron left an established art career in the United States 15 years ago to make her home in Golden Bay. After completing the first Deathwalker Training with Zenith Virago to be held in Aotearoa at the end of 2015, she founded the Death Café Golden Bay six years ago, which is now an active group of almost 200 people who not only meet in person from time to time, but engage with each other and share ideas on Facebook.

Aralyn is also is a painter, illustrator and sculptor using reclaimed materials. After painting on windows as a teenager it wasn’t until many years later that she considered applying the technique to her own paintings when her husband John, a builder, came home with some wooden framed windows, asking “Can you do something with these?”

Deciding the frames were too nice to throw out, Aralyn pick up her paint brush and the rest, they say, is history.

Aralyn nominated old jazz standards as songs she would like played at her funeral or wake.
Green Renaissance Films
In episode 10, I introduce the extraordinary filmmaking collective, Green Renaissance, and two of their short docos which feature Aralyn.

Trail of Light is a 7-minute doco, which tells a little more of Aralyn's journey as a deathwalker and her belief that it's only when we recognise that we're going to die that we truly start to live.
Watch Trail of Light
Giving Back to the Earth is a 10 min doco which also features Aralyn - and others - discussing the fear of death, why it's taboo and the consequences of unprocessed grief. They challenge us to embrace death and encourage us to recognise our place in the cycle of life and death and ask, what do I want the end of my life to look like and what will happen to my body when I die?

Watch Giving Back to the Earth

Visit the Green Renaissance website for more films.
Listen to previous Season 2 episodes
OUT APRIL 24, 2022
Death in Print: Death and its Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Beautiful Lessons by Becky Aud-Jennison, Meet: Deathwalker and author Becky Aud-Jennison, Death on Screen: 'Good Grief'
OUT MAY 8, 2022
Death in PrintWhat Days Are For by Robert Dessaix, Meet: Septuagenerian climate activist Bill McEwan, Death on Screen: Nelson Poetry Map featuring Bill Manhire's poem, 'Kevin'
OUT MAY 22, 2022
Death in PrintAn Hour to Live, An Hour to Love by Richard Carlson, Meet: Storyteller Tanya Batt, Death on Screen: Imagined Worlds website
OUT JUNE 5, 2022
Death in PrintWild Darkness by Eva Saulitis, Meet: Natural burial pioneer Dawn Jones and her daughter Sylvia Bauer Death on Screen: NZ Natural Burial directory
OUT JULY 3, 2022
Death in PrintActions & Travels: How Poetry Works by Anna Jackson, Meet: Singer/songwriter Nick Feint Death on Screen: 'Good Bones' by Maggie Smith
OUT JULY 24, 2022
Death in Print: 'Thanksgiving in Mongolia' by Ariel Levy, Meet: Christchurch Death Cafe and Death Matters NZ founder Melanie Mayell Death on Screen: Baz Luhrmann's 'Elvis'
AUGUST 7, 2022
Death in PrintThe Eulogy by Jackie Bailey, Meet: Funeral director, interfaith minister and author Jackie Bailey Death on Screen: The Beautiful Lie
OUT AUGUST 21, 2022
Death in PrintFinding True Connections by Gareth St John Thomas, Meet: Krisca Gould and Mary Garner from Nelson Tasman Hospice, Death on Screen: Te Kahu Pairuri o Aotearoa Hospice New Zealand website
SEPTEMBER 18, 2022
Death in PrintRemote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey, Meet: Dr Kathryn L Smith, GP who provides physician-assisted dying services, Death on Screen: Station Eleven
Catch up on Season 1 episodes
Death in Print: Before You Knew My Name, Meet: author Jacqueline Bublitz, Death on Screen: 'Dead to Me'
OUT OCTOBER 17, 2021
Death in Print: Listen: How to Find the Words for Tender Conversations, Meet: author Kathryn Mannix, Death on Screen: 'Phone of the Wind'
OUT OCTOBER 31, 2021
Death in Print: No Pressure, No Diamonds, Meet: legal executive Marie Austin, Death on Screen: 'I Told You I Was Ill: the Life & Legacy of Spike Milligan'
OUT OCTOBER 31, 2021
Death in Print: No Pressure, No Diamonds by Teri Dillion, Meet: legal executive Marie Austin, Death on Screen: 'I Told You I Was Ill: The Life and Legacy of Spike Milligan'
Death in Print: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, Meet: poet & playwright Donna McLeod, Death on Screen: 'Living with Ghosts'
Death in Print: Mortals: How the Fear of Death Shaped Human Society by Rachel & Ross Menzies, Meet: psychologist and author Rachel Menzies, Death on Screen: Lisel Mueller on 'The Marginalian'
Death in Print: No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, Meet: author Bonnie Etherington, Death on Screen: 'My Beautiful Broken Brain'