Bringing Comfort to the Dying & Bereaved
NOVEMBER 13, 2022
Bringing Comfort to the Dying & Bereaved
Death in Print: Words of Comfort by Rebekah Ballagh, Meet: Threshold singing group director Valerie Wycoff, Death on Screen: Threshold Choir website
Listen to Episode 13 on the following podcast platforms
Or, if you've already listened to the show, scroll down for more info and links . . .
Words of Comfort
Photo by Jacob,_(1961_%E2%80%93_2006).jpg#/media/File:Richard_Carlson,_(1961_–_2006).jpg
There are two definitions of the word 'comfort'. The first is 'a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint'. The second is 'the easing or alleviation of a person's feelings of grief or distress'. We focus on the latter in episode 13.

In keeping with this theme, I talk about Words of Comfort by Rebekah Ballagh, who is a qualified counsellor and mindfulness coach.

Rebekah’s first book, Note to Self: The Secrets of Calm, was published by Allen & Unwin in 2020. A companion, the Note to Self Journal, followed in 2021, while Words of Comfort came out in February this year. Impressively, she wrote and illustrated all three books.

As Rebekah writes in the introduction to the book, grief is a very intense experience, which is fraught with conflicting and complicated emotions that can leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, overwhelmed and usure of what to do and where to turn. Words of Comfort, she writes, is here to help. She says the book is your companion in grief, both a beacon of hope and somewhere you can come and sit with grief. And how key that last point is, in my experience. Grief isn’t something that can be buried or ignored.

Chapter one explores the experience of grieving, and the emotions and thoughts they may surface during this process.

Chapter two provide a toolbox of strategies and words of comfort to help you through your grief. The “through you” here is really key. As Rebekah points out, there is no timeline for grief. And despite Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of dying being adopted by many as a model for grief (and expanded into seven stages), it’s definitely not a linear process.

Chapter three takes a look at some of the things we can learn from grief. As someone who was once called Kerry Silver Linings Sunderland, these really resonate with me. One of my favourites is:

Change is inevitable
Grief is inescapable
Loss is unavoidable
Growth is a choice
Insight is an intention

Wisely, Rebekah urges the reader to take what they need and leave what they don’t. And she provides ongoing support to readers through her Instagram community @journey_to_wellness. She has an astonishing 350,000 followers.
Meet Valerie Wycoff
Valerie Wycoff is a Certified Trainer through the international Center for Nonviolent Communication. Born in Nebraska, she now lives in Christchurch, where she offers coaching, counselling and workshops to enhance connection, freedom, and new possibilities.

Her own Nonviolent Communication (AKA Compassionate Communication) journey has been influential in growing her own, and others, capacity for meaningful conversations about difficult topics, including death in particular.

Valerie joins me on episode 13 to tell us more about threshold choirs, which bring songs of comfort to the dying.

We discuss her role in Reflections Threshold Singers, a group which aims to “make kindness audible,” at the bedsides of people in the final stages of their life.

In addition, Valerie has teamed up with Majida Jean McElhaney to deliver a workshop called 'Finding Life Within Death'. And together they've put together another workshop called 'Talking Towards Death'.

Valerie says she has enjoyed singing all her life, particularly alongside others in small groups. Her singing involvements this year have included singing the Verdi Requiem with the Christhchurch Symphony Orchestra Chorus, performing with the Opera Club, and directing practices and singing at bedside with other members of Reflections Threshold Singers (for end of life).

Valerie nominated 'Everything We Do is Sacred' by Alison McKay as a song she would like played at her deathbed, funeral or wake. Unfortunately this song is not on Spotify but you can listen to other songs in our 'Farewell songs' playlist.
Threshold Choir website
Threshold choirs are groups of people who sing for those who are dying. The seed of the idea was first planted in the early 1990s, when Kate Munger sang for her friend Larry as he lay in a coma, dying of HIV/AIDS. The first Threshold Choir took place in El Cerrito, California in 2000.

The concept spread rapidly across California, with another nine chapters being formed in the first six months. Over the past two decades, chapters have continued to form across the United States, provinces in Canada, and other places around the world.

Today, there are about 200 chapters worldwide, including eight groups in the Pacific region (essentially Australia and New Zealand), with people doing this work as volunteers, singing to folks who are facing death, grief, or suffering.

I encourage you to visit the Threshold Choir website for more information about Threshold singing, including audio you can listen to and videos you can watch.

In episode 13, I also play a short segment of video about threshold choirs that was first broadcast on Religion & Ethics News Weekly. You can watch the full clip below.
Watch The Threshold Choir

Threshold Choir International.