|2007 - 2012||Event|
"Dying to Know" is a short film made by my daughter in Grade 11, about how I confronted my own funeral.
Tree Change, Sea Change, Coffins Change Exhibition
Cooroy Butter Factory, 25th July - 11th August 2009
Talk - Why There's A Man Riding a Surfboard Coffin In My
Grade 12 students Pacific Lutheran College, Caloundra
Talk - The 'F' and the 'C' Words - Funerals and Coffins
Planning a Final Farewell Workshop
Top Twenty Funeral Hints Talk
Plan Now... Die Later Talk
Plan Now... Die Later Talk
Planning a Final Farewell
Motivational Talk: ‘Just Do It Whatever It Is!’
- Chris gave a powerful and moving account of her life
experience that left us all richer, wiser and motivated to get
Planning a Final Farewell
- I felt very comfortable in a relaxed atmosphere talking about the one thing everybody dislikes talking about. Gail Love
Sunshine Coast Daily
The Chris Dunn who carts a cardboard coffin from the garage into her house for me to have a look at is a far cry from the one who once feared death.
The surf-themed coffin, which might be used by her husband one day if it goes the distance, was used by Chris recently in a How To Plan Your Own Farewell workshop.
The girl who once suffered mild panic attacks just thinking about the finality of death is now a qualified funeral celebrant, who specialises in farewelling people from this world on their own terms.
The catalyst for her turnaround was having to think about her own funeral. Eleven years ago, when her eldest daughter was three years old, Chris was diagnosed with gestational trophoblastic disease – a cancer which occurs when cells from an abnormal foetus transfer through the womb into the mother.
She underwent months of chemotherapy, and went through it again when the cancer returned, against the odds, after she was pregnant with her second daughter. However, she still refused to confront death until the cancer returned a third time, soon after the family moved from Redcliffe to Marcoola.
“I was always just going to go and treat my cancer and continue on as normal as possible,” Chris says. “If people rang up, I’d get my husband to talk to them. I didn’t want to talk about cancer and chemo and feeling sick and having needles.
“If you get down to the core of it, it was too scary.
“In hindsight, it was a coping mechanism, and a reliable one for most people. It worked brilliantly for me for eight years. I’d come home from treatment and be as normal as possible and I didn’t really consider myself a cancer patient.
“When I was diagnosed the third time, I tried to go into survival mode, and I did have one more chemo treatment, but I went to pieces. I’d been trying to hold stuff together for so long.”
Chris ended up at the Bloomhill Cancer Help Centre at Buderim, where she came to terms with cancer and her own mortality, and began to consider arrangements in case she did not survive her battle.
“I thought it was probably time to start thinking about what sort of funeral I’d like,” she says. “I started to think in terms of my two girls. What sort of funeral did I want them to go to?
“I wanted it to be something very natural and meaningful. I wanted it to be an uplifting experience for them. I didn’t want to scare them.”
Chris’s search for a meaningful funeral led her to the internet, and then to a course for funeral celebrants, and another on planning funerals. What started as a personal quest for information quickly grew as Chris realised more people had the same questions as she did, and wanted to know what would and would not be possible at their own funerals.
Chris did not intend to become a practising celebrant until she offered to help the widow of a family friend plan her partner’s funeral. The service, held at home and incorporating special touches that reflected the deceased man’s love of surfing and nature, evoked such a positive reaction from those who attended that Chris felt like she was in her niche.
“That was when I realised all of these choices were possible for my funeral and for other people’s funerals, if people knew they had choices and had somebody to support them,” she says.
Chris has since conducted services riverside and on the beach and encourages people to hold funerals at a time and place that is meaningful to them or their loved ones. She says many people do not realise no rules govern when, where or how a funeral service should be held.
They can build their own coffins if they want to, while environmentally-friendly cardboard ones, like the one on stand-by for her husband, are also available, she says.
She acknowledges that traditional funerals suit some people, but more individualised funerals, at a time or place of significance, often allow people to feel a greater connection with the deceased, and ease the grieving.
Chris’s first Plan Your Own Funeral workshop at Bloomhill was so popular people were turned away.
“I wasn’t sure people would want to come and sit in a room and discuss funerals if someone hadn’t died, but... I got more out of it than anything,” she admits. "It was just so life-affirming that I’m able to help people find out about their choices and the level of involvement they can have if they want.”
Chris points out that, years ago, relatives and friends handled funerals themselves, and the funeral industry may have alienated people from what is a natural part of life. However, she believes the tide is turning as people discover the choices available.
“There has been a movement that started overseas to say, ‘Let’s embrace death and make it a natural part of life so we aren’t scared of it’, and that’s a beautiful thing for me,” Chris says.
“I don’t want my children to be scared of it like I was for 43 or 44 years.”
Dealing with her greatest fear has allowed Chris to move forward with her life in ways that she could never have imagined. Facing up to fear is empowering, she says.
“If you have a fear... go and see what it would be like if it happens. Go down that path and it won’t be scary any more. It changes your whole viewpoint.”