Jane’s mission is to get us talking about dying

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By Ashley Porter

If you knew when you were going to die, would you do anything differently? If you would, why wait?

We attend classes to learn about birth, but apart from the recent debate prompted by Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying bill, general discussions about dying are rare.

Jane Melling was moved to share her views and experience about dying after the death of husband Joe, aged 55, who battled with cancer for four months. She hopes her story can help us all.

The mother of four was once a successful real estate agent. She describes her working life as constantly chasing the next listing and commission. This is Jane’s story, in her own words: 

“After Joe died in 2013, I thought, what’s life really all about? I was no longer happy going to work, so I handed in my notice. A few months later, I took on a job helping out at a funeral business. When the lady who was doing the mortuary work decided to leave, they asked if I was interested, and I was. I wanted to learn what happens after someone dies.

I went home and told the kids, and they said, ‘How gross’, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It has been so satisfying.

I suppose for me, Joe’s death put a different perspective on how I looked at life, definitely. You realise how short life is and how things can happen in just one day. Helping at the mortuary helped me cope with Joe’s passing. It made me feel like I was doing something good, and it made me much more accepting of death as a fact of life. When you lose a partner, people don’t know what to say to you. ‘Oh, he’s in a better place,’ they say, ‘not suffering any more.’ Sometimes you feel like saying, ‘he’s not in a better place because I want him to be here.’

It’s the tried and tested sentences that people say, though they really do mean well. The first couple of weeks after it happens you get everyone around bringing food, but that’s when you don’t want everyone around, you don’t want to talk or see people. You go into yourself.

Eighteen months ago, someone said to me, ‘Oh, shouldn’t you be over it?’ Grief is different for everyone; for me, it made me appreciate life.

Everyone does the same thing, they go to work, have two or three weeks off – it’s a treadmill. Not any more for me. I grab life, enjoy it and appreciate it. I see things differently: how short life can be, how precious it is. I started seeing the blue skies and the stars again, and then I thought, ‘I wished I’d stopped and seen them when Joe was with me’.

I will always love Joe, but as someone once said, you are loving a dead person. They are correct. You have to accept the fact that for the rest of your life they are still part of you and you will love them, but you have to get to a stage where you want to get up in the morning.” 

Jane says the trauma is generally worse for families who haven’t talked about dying, and that

the task of identifying someone in a coffin can be more traumatic than the funeral. She promotes the logic that close family or friends need to know what a person’s wishes are: do they want to be buried or cremated?  Do they have a will?

“So many people don’t understand what happens when someone dies,” Jane explains. “Until it hits them between the eyes, they don’t actually look at it as a proper transition. They think, ‘Oh, someone has died and the funeral is next week’; it doesn’t compute. For example, their mum dies, and I ask the family to bring some clothes in for her. Some cannot understand why. It’s about making the person look as nice as possible. Dignity is so important.” 

These days Jane loves going to work. She loves helping bereaved families and the deceased. “Having been with Joe through his tough months and now working with death has made me far more assertive in believing that life is definitely too short,” she says. “It gets me out of bed every day, and as much as I still love Joe, life goes on. It must.” 

Can you talk openly with family and friends about dying?

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Total Comments: 10
  1. 0

    Jane’s story is lovely – my husband passed away 4 months ago and I am still trying to come to terms with it as it was so sudden and unexpected. Life is short but I am still to get myself out of my rut (grief is so personal and hard) – I still have so many tears yet I know I have to start living again and that is what I hope to do in the new year

  2. 0

    I too believe that Jane’s story is lovely and so full of truths. I lost my wife suddenly and unexpectedly 5 months ago. At least we did talk about what we both wanted although my daughters were a bit taken aback when I told them that their mum was being cremated. They did ask why so I took the time to explain that although I am one of five children their mother and I were the only ones who tended to my parents grave and that their aunt and Uncle as well as my wife and I were the only ones who tended to my wife’s parents grave. As both daughters live interstate I asked them who would tend to the grave for my wife and I. Fortunately both girls understood and respected the wishes of both my wife and I.
    Also I can testify to people asking or saying the wrong thing. 6 weeks after my wife’s funeral I went to a friends 60th birthday lunch and a woman, who I did not know but knew of my situation, came and told me that she knew how I felt as she had lost her mother 3 years prior . She did not know or have any idea as despite your love for your mother someone that you have loved for over 50 years and lived with for nearly that long is totally different. I just wanted that woman to go away. Fortunately another chap who had also lost his wife 5 years prior touched me on the arm and said “She has no Bloody idea” which helped me cope with her insensitivity.

  3. 0

    My husband passed away nearly 13 years ago but he is still a major part of my life. My granddaughters all know of him and recognise him from photo’s (only one of the four of them was born when he died). My daughter and I talk about him, what he would think/say in various situations, etc. and, yes, we do talk about death and what should happen at such time as we meet our end.

  4. 0

    Thank you Jane for sharing your story. My best friend passed away Boxing day last year and my Mum in May this year. My Mum and Dad had been married for nearly 57 years and Dad was Mum’s carer for the last 15 years. It’s been so hard seeing Dad go through grief and loneliness this past 7 months. Grief is so personal and my experience of it is that it hits at unexpected moments. Not a day goes past that I don’t think about my Friend and my Mum. Dad talks openly about dying and what he wants for his funeral. While it is hard to contemplate losing Dad as well, I think talking about it makes sense and I will respect his wishes when the time comes. My heart goes out to those experiencing the loss of a loved one and I think for me at least, it is just taking one day at a time and holding my memories close.

  5. 0

    Thankyou for sharing such an honest story if your life and how it’s changed. I too lost my beautiful husband way too young. I can understand why you’ve chosen your new career. Even though we talked about dying it still didn’t answer all my questions and it hasn’t taken away the loneliness. I do try very hard though to help other people in a more useful way when they lose a loved one. Your visiting comment is spot on. Try never to over visit a person and then disappear out of their life. I am sure you will have been a great support to a lot of people.

  6. 0

    I have made my wishes clear to my husband and kids. I intend my body to go to science and I firmly believe once you’re dead-that’s it! I have attended many funerals where at a time of grief you get pressured into ‘upscaling’ with flowers, coffin etc. It can be an overwhelming cost in the case of a sudden death. I believe Costco sell coffins at a reduced price and as much as some believe in the after life, I’m not one of them. Although I don’t intend going any time soon, I think it’s important to discuss wishes with family well in advance. I know wishes can be over ridden by immediate family but I’ve told them I will come back to haunt them if they don’t comply 😉

    • 0

      I am with you Tootsweet — no fuss for me I have never liked fuss in life and I sure do not need it in death — if people love you-you will remain in their hearts and thoughts forever more, that will do me fine.

  7. 0

    My observation is that Grief is forever, also my own experience, it is a question of focus.
    When your loved one dies, you are totally focused on that overwhelming experience, appropriately, I would suggest, as I suspect human relationships are the most important part of our lives.
    Then, after a while, other items demand your focus, – often inappropriately, but always, if you think about your loved one, the grief returns, – often overlaid after many years by everyday life, but still there.
    I don’t believe it is just a question of religion, the Materialist religion says that the mind is like a filing system, so open the file and you’re there, older understandings maintain you go back in time to the moment of your memory, and your’re there.
    Equally real.
    After some time, emotional links to other situations become weaker, judgements, particularly, and some of that will flow into your life, – possibly, but it will seem that the departure is less affecting, as you are focussing more on day to day and the year to year.
    But cast your focussed attention back to that situation and you are there, with them, some might say communicating with them, to the degree you can visualise them, but of course they have moved on, so that can be only momentary as no doubt you would understand, – we all have our destiny, time waits for no person.
    Tootsweet’s version allows no contact, you are just a void moving on, but here is a link on after death researches and more with the title “Is Consciousness Produced by the Brain?” by Bruce Greyson, the which uses the Scientific method to explore these realms, with perhaps more understanding about dying arising therefrom. Cheers, Geoff. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sPGZSC8odIU

  8. 0

    One thing I learnt after my wife’s sudden death last year was that you never get over it you just learn to live with it. It has taken me many small steps, but I am gradually learning to live with it.

  9. 0

    As a Christian (aged 55), I know when I die that I’ll be going to Heaven to be with my Lord, God and Saviour Jesus. I hope that will be of comfort to those who care about me.



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