While 70% of Canadians die in hospital, an increasing number of Canadians are choosing to die or have death services in the home. Artist and teacher Andrea is dying and she is choosing to do it differently. Together with her partner of over 40 years, Daniel, she is facing a terminal cancer diagnosis and seeking guidance in this difficult stage of their lives.
Karry Sawatsky is a death doula – a relatively new caregiving profession which has seen steady growth in accreditation programs since 2010. Karry provides her clients with non-medical advice on dealing with various aspects of end-of-life care. Working with Andrea and Daniel, Karry is making a death plan by providing burial options, home funeral plans and emotional support.
Andrea is sharing her story so that others might feel more comfortable with conversations around death and to ask themselves, ‘how do I want to die?’
FOR MOST PEOPLE IN THE MODERN WESTERN WORLD, DYING IS A SLIGHT, AN OFFENSE TO BEING ALIVE.
Yes, as of a certain age, we all know we are going to die and some of us act accordingly. But in death phobic cultures such as the mainstream culture of North America and much of Western Europe, that knowledge is something we push away from our days. We push it to a place in our minds and hearts labeled “in case of emergency or tragedy only,” and unless it’s an emergency or tragedy, that fact of our death remains willfully obfuscated by the pragmatics of day to day life.
Yet, death remains ever-vigilant, always with us, whether we chose to look at it or not. Eventually, one day, the gravity of its presence in the room becomes such that it will be nearly impossible to avert our gaze. A day such as one where a parent, partner, sibling, or friend, dies, and where there was once our ability to look upon that person’s face and have them look upon ours with care and affection is replaced with memories, and only memories, from here on in. Or the day when our doctor looks at us and says “I’m sorry” and we know by the tone in their voice and look in their eyes that it’s terminal and it is not a loved one we are needing to say goodbye to now, but all of them, and all of life, and everything that we have ever known and ever loved, all at once.
“Dying is active. Dying is not what happens to you. Dying is what you do.”
Stephen Jenkinson, Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul
What then? What do we do with this? If dying is not something that happens to us but something that we do, like Jenkinson says, then how do we do it? How we do this thing called dying in a culture that sees our death as an offense to life? How do we do this thing called dying when, the deepest core of us does not want to go, despite the fact that we are about to whether we want to or not? How do we grapple with living, dying, and grieving in a way that serves life and all those loves we are about to leave behind?
These are questions artist Andrea Bird has been grappling with since 2017.
Andrea Bird is an accomplished Canadian artist specializing in a painting medium called encaustic, which uses beeswax hardened with damar resin and mixed with oil paint. She has also been an art teacher for decades, teaching at both the Elora Centre for the Arts and at the school she and her husband created: The Hive in the Alton Mill Art Centre in Caledon.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, at 51 years of age. Almost five years later, after having gone through all the recommended treatments, her cancer had come back, having spread to her lungs and her bones. In 2017, she received her terminal diagnosis. In December of 2018, having no experience with it up to this point, she received underground psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy to grapple with the challenge of dying, inspired by Michael Pollan’s most recent book, How to Change Your Mind: what the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.
As we live in a death phobic culture, she is wanting to begin and continue the conversation about how we live, grieve, and die. She is on the show for this episode to share her psilocybin story publicly for the first time.
- Receiving the terminal Diagnosis
- Deciding to take psilocybin during her dying process
- Learning to be a dying person
- The context of her first journey
- The story of her first journey
- What her first psilocybin journey taught her about how to die
- Learning to love yourself
- Integrating that first journey into life (and dying)
- The shadow winter
- What brought her into her second journey
- ‘Saying to good to everyone I love’
- Dying of cancer during the pandemic
- A fierce training of living in the present moment
- Giving back the gift of life
- Andreas suggestions in preparing for psilocybin during your dying time
- The role of poetry in learning to die
Accomplished artist Andrea Bird connects art to love and death. Her theme of ‘holding loosely’ infuses Andrea’s work and positive world view.
Duration – 30:22
VoxBox: William Shatner – from the CD ‘Has Been’
Music Credit: Belle Starr – This Must Be The Place
Emerging Form: A Podcast About the Creative Process
Andrea being interviewed about existential despair with Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer and Christie Aschwanden
So you’re writing. Or painting. Or dancing. And you’re struck by this horrible feeling: what am I doing? How am I ever going to find the form and create something beautiful out of this tangled mess that I’ve assembled? Or you start to feel that your work doesn’t matter. That in fact, nothing matters. Your creative endeavors amount to nothing. You are nothing. Nothing’s worth saying. No creative project’s worth doing. And that, friends, is existential despair. It happens. Most people involved in creative projects experience this state at some point, and it can be tough to get out of. In this episode, we wonder, can we avoid it? What do we miss if we avoid it? What helps us to return to a sense of purpose and passion? Our special guest, encaustic/mixed media artist Andrea Bird from Ontario, Canada, joins us for our game of two questions and talks about how that grappling can actually be what helps push our work to the next level.
Andrea Bird Interviewed by Laura Hollick
Hamilton, Ontario for 93.3 CMFU