• drannetta

Building communities of love and compassion - a care and cultivation guide

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Why write your musings about community building and awareness on your blog today Dr Annetta? I hear you ask. Excellent question, oh delightful and intelligent Gentle Reader! Its because part of death literacy is to understand more completely how to nourish and maintain healthy communities around us at every stage of our life.

Wondering what some of the community-building networks that might be near you could look and feel like? Here are some wonderful examples to inspire you and get you thinking about how you can be more involved in your own local community. Who knows, you may even start your own venture, helping to spread connection and maybe even death literacy.

At end of life a 'Compassionate Community' refers to the - minimum - of 16 people needed in a network system to support someone to die at home. This network may consist of an End of Life Doula, family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, and care workers. I think it is healthy though, to consider how we might have compassionate communities around us for every stage of life. I like the idea of having supportive, empathetic, and empowering people around me well before I know that I am near the time of my death. And Cully wants to remind us that pets form part of this consideration, too, so remember to include your dog walkers and cat minders!

Communities of work that inspire

A few months ago Hubs and I were in Auckland New Zealand, and our hotel was near a large Barber shop that offered free hair cuts. I usually cut Hubs' hair, so I jumped at the chance to be let off the clippering hook this month. I ended up spending some time talking with the owner, Vea Fonua, about his business model and was deeply impressed by his enthusiasm and passion. This establishment is a fast-track training course for barbering (OK, mostly males, but I did see at least one female apprentice while I was in the shop so yes, this is equal opportunity training), and Mr Fonua not only encourages professionalism and skill-building to his trainees, but continues his passion for learning and teaching with his 100 Barbershops project. You can read more about all this on the @veafonua Instagram account. Many of the young people, including the young man who did a very good job of cutting Hubs' hair, are at-risk youth or from backgrounds that may not have set them up for optimal life choices. The barbering course requires dedication, discipline, and professionalism - and is yielding good results - as well as winning awards.

Mr Barber offers both morning and afternoon free haircuts with apprentices, or you can pay a modest sum for a seasoned professional. Worth a visit, and learn about community building in professional fields.

I was truly impressed with Mr Fonua's dedication and love of community building. If you are in Auckland, I urge you to try Mr Barber in Federal St, other locations available, see link.

The Mens Shed Australia

The Sheds offer a male-only space, no alcohol or other drugs, no smoking, and an environment of acceptance and support. The peak body in Australia for local Sheds which positively supporting men by men is The Mens Shed - the association has over 1,000 sheds around Australia at the time of writing and can help you find your closest Shed. Many Sheds are affiliated with or connected to local projects of importance like Tasmania's Coffin Club, or Surf Lifesaving Australia. The Sheds offer practical skills and knowledge around making and building - carpentry, metalwork, etc. - whilst also promoting men's health, and health and safety in general.

Many isolated and lonely men have found a sense of place and purpose via a Mens Shed. Don't overlook this wonderful community-building resource in your local area.

Solidarity for men by men is important, so the Sheds offer a wonderful and particular set of resources in communities, which are repaid by upskilled members returning time, knowledge and expertise to the wider community itself. On an end of life note, The Sheds are wonderful for recently bereaved men of any age as older men are usually at the helm of a Shed and bring their own life experience to the table for members. Take a look at the Shed in your local area male Gentle Readers, you may benefit in a number of ways by tapping into this wonderful system of support and resources.

Community building with creativity

We went to see multi-award winning singer songwriter Troy Cassar Daley last weekend, and this Indigenous Australian performer has over 31 #1 hits to his name, along with many collaborations with performers like Paul Kelly and Jimmy Barnes. This acoustic Greatest Hits tour of 2019 is not just about the high points however - I was truly touched by Cassar Daley's willingness to talk about suicide rates in Far North Queensland, and the incredibly tough times faced by farmers in Australia in times of extreme weather change. Just as easily as he changed chords on his guitar, community-building and compassionate community ideals were woven into his stories and songs.

I have paid a professional musician to appear at a birthday party for Hubs - we became the unofficial last night of the tour and sold merchandise on our back deck. Don't be afraid to ask musicians, artists, writers, performers if they will come and be a part of a community-building event or celebration. Yes, you pay them. These are professionals. But many professionals do say yes when an event aligns with their personal values and ethics. Try it and see - but if 'no' is the answer, accept this gracefully and move on to your next idea. Community is not just one of us, after all.

Cassar Daley wrote the song that is the title of Barnes' upcoming tour Shutting Down Your Town, by the way, and you can hear it here. Community and togetherness is a zeitgeist right now - so maybe the creative community-building performer need not be a high profile name, but you and some incredibly talented people that you know locally. Fundraising, awareness-raising, or fun might be the driving idea behind your community-building event. Ask around in your local area, read posters in local shops to find venues and to get ideas. Share the workload with people you know and trust to pull their weight, and make your community event something that is organised with a small community.

Compassionate Communities and Planning Ahead of Need

Our end of life is made considerably easier - especially if we want to die at home - when we have a strong and diverse compassionate community in place around us. Australian research from 2012 shows that a minimum of 16 people are needed for someone to die at home. By this we need to understand that 16 people can come from a variety of spaces in our life: colleagues, neighbours, friends, family, healthcare workers (although they may come and go, or change around a lot so be prepared for the role to be constant rather than the person), and YES! end of life doulas.

I know that the bracelets seems to indicate a festival of some kind, but why not do like the festivals do and give your end of life #ComCom a really cool name and some swag to go with it? T-shirts, pins, hand-woven bracelets, funky nametags?! Make your #ComCom special by planning well in advance of your need - if you are not sure how to do this an EOL Doula like myself can help you get started and be part of your #ComCom if you like.

Think long and hard about what makes your life tick over smoothly every day - for example, I walk Cully twice a day and have a garden that requires maintenance, while blinds need to be open and closed around the house, the post needs bringing in, and groceries need to be bought. Apparently laundry does NOT do itself, so that is another consideration along with grocery and Cully food shopping. What are the rhythms and essentials - as well as personal pleasures - that make up the stuff of your life? Make a list - I know someone who likes audiobooks, but is not physically capable of changing the iPod to a new book when one ends, so someone nearby to do this for her is a real boon. If a carer is not around, a trusted neighbour helps out, and this small act of compassionate community in action makes her daily life sweeter and nicer.

When you have made a list of your needs, make a list of people you like and can trust. Remember that 'trust' in this case may not be about letting someone into your house for long periods of time, but someone you trust to actually do what they say they will. Time may well be a factor in trust - when a good friend and neighbour goes away, he knows he can trust me to get his post in from the box. Yes, I am incredibly busy, but I can drive past his house each day and collect post so his house looks occupied. Other people who are retired in our street and who have more time are not people he asks because they show up less regularly when asked - this is fine as we all have limits and patterns that need to be accepted and understood. Part of compassionate community function is knowing who will show up, when - and why.

Be gentle with yourself and with the people in your networks.

Plan for your pets, your children, your work schedule (if