A past episode of The Agenda involved an interview by Steve Paikin with Rochelle Martin (as part of a panel regarding end of life needs).  As you are no doubt aware, there is an ongoing debate regarding end of life care and support for those who might appreciate some medical assistance in keeping comfortable and/or ending their lives.  This particular interview wasn’t about assisted death, but covered an interesting aspect of the changing landscape when it comes to death and dying.  Martin is an R.N. and has worked in the palliative care area for a number of years.  Her focus is on Funeral Alternatives.  She has been called a “Death Midwife” and “Death Doula”, but does not use either term to describe herself.  She prefers “Death Educator.”  Martin indicated that, unfortunately, many people not only do not want to talk about death, they also do not wish, or can’t, make plans for their own death and funeral needs.  It is commonly thought “this too shall pass,”  “don’t rock the boat” or “I could jinx myself.”  Not having plans or wishes in place beforehand can present quite a challenge for the family and loved ones left behind.  But that is another topic.

As regards funeral alternatives, Martin indicated that in Ontario, as well as some other Canadian provinces, the family can bring home the body and care for it before final burial needs are decided upon.  The body is not required to go to a funeral home for care.  The idea of funeral homes is relatively new and up to forty or fifty years ago it was the norm to have the dead in the house.   Wakes were held at home, friends, family and visitors came and Grandpa would be dressed by his family in his best and laid out in the front room.  He wasn’t embalmed (embalming is not a step we are obliged to take plus it is toxic to the environment) and burial was usually within 2-3 days.  Friends and neighbours would bring food, solace, stories and conversation. If this is the type of format that appeals to us, it is possible to do so today.  According to Martin, we can also bury the body in our yard, assuming it is large enough, not near any neighbours nor water systems.  Martin mentioned that in Hamilton, Ontario burial in one’s yard is permitted.  However, the grave must be mentioned in the deed to the property from that point forward.  Travelling through some of the Southern US states, I have seen several homes with one or two tombstones in people’s front yards.  There was something comfortable, for me, in seeing loved ones nearby.  According to Martin, the only thing Canadian’s are not permitted to do is cremate at home.  What we can do is to arrange transportation of the body to an appropriate facility for cremation after the at home wake, then to the burial.

Laying some one out at home has advantages. One of the most meaningful advantages is that death becomes a part of life right there in the home.  Currently we have set death apart from our lives and delegated the care of the body to others.  We are no longer able to take advantage of witnessing for ourselves or being a part of what goes on after death.  There can be a lot of comfort in washing and dressing a loved one’s body for their final journey.  When the visitation is in the home, children have the advantage of learning from an early age that people die, that adults cry and become emotional and the community assists and supports with the grieving.  The children can ask any questions they might need as they need.  In addition children often add something meaningful to emotional situations such as cutting through to core of the issues, helping (making?) us mourn and saying what many adults want to say and yet are fearful to.  The children in the room are at the beginning of their lives while sharing an end to life.  I rather like that thought.  

A friend recently died and was waked at home in a hand-made coffin by one of his friends.  My friend and his 3-year old grandson were particularly close and J. made videos of himself reading to his grandson as a keepsake.  This youngster brought us all to tears as we had a healing circle for J. and the little fellow stood in the centre of the circle as we were holding hands and he put his hand on his chest and declared loudly: “Grampa now lives in my heart!”  That is exactly where Grampa now lives.  His gift to us was an opportunity to cry as we mourned the passing of a special man.  And youngsters understand, sometimes better (differently?) than the adults who love them, what is really going on.  They can cut through the barriers and say in their own unencumbered way what we really may need to hear.

I read of one family who waked at home, placing their loved one in a cardboard, white box (as an environmentally friendly alternative) and had the children present paint messages on the box to the deceased.  Life and death lovingly entwined.

Other advantages of having a wake at home include:  financial (it costs less to have a wake at home), emotional (can take your time and visit your loved one when it suits you, i.e. in the middle of the night if need be), offers some privacy to grieve, offers each family member a way to meet their needs and absorb the loss in their own way and time frame, brings together community for support, offers opportunity for sharing with others, and the caring and washing of the body ourselves is a final expression of love.   

If you would like to read more about Funeral Alternatives and/or learn about Rochelle Martin’s work, you can visit www.funeralalternatives.wordpress.com


Lynda speaks to reducing multiples on Canada’s CTV National News, 8th May, 2017: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/study-links-fetal-reduction-in-multifetal-pregnancies-better-birth-outcomes-1.3403262

TTTS a disease of the placenta and as soon as you know you are pregnant with multiples, you need to try and find out if the babies (or any of the babies) have transfusion TTTS.  It only occurs with monozygotic (identical) babies, and can happen within a higher order set (triplets, quads, quints) as well if there are monozygotic babies.  In simple terms, it is a situation where one of the babies receives most of the available maternal nutrition and the other one receives almost none becasue their veins and arteries have, due to the circumstances of their formation, intertwined.  Nutrition goes too quickly through one baby, the doner, and the other baby, the recipient, receives too much nutrition and is unable to adequately get rid of the excess about of food and liquid, so it pools within his or her body.  Both babies suffer organ stress for different reasons, one because there is not enough nutrition and the other because there is too much.  TTTS becomes an issue for both babies by about week 20 of gestation.  Some pregnancies can be helped by lasering some of the veins and arteries the babies share thereby giving each baby a better chance at growth and development.  It can be expected that if a pregnancy has TTTS babies they will be born early, i.e. before 38 weeks.  The doner will be pale and wrinkled at birth and the recipient will be larger and redder.  TTTS has a spectrum of severity from mild to severe and the babies, one or both, can be negatively affected.  It is important to diagnose as soon as possible after you know you are pregnant with multiples.

For more detailed information on TTTS, you can go to page http://jumelle.ca/prenatal-education/twin-to-twin-transfusion-syndrome/ on my Web Site.  Many multiple-birth pregnancy books address TTTS and Googling TTTS will also provide many sites to get further information.

Men grieve too when their baby(ies) die.  They just do it differently from women.  Here are a few books I found specially for men.  I am so sorry for your loss.

Men & Grief:  A Guide for Men Surviving the Death of a Love One, by Carol Staudacher, New Harbinger Publications

When Men Grieve:  Why Men Grive Differently & How You Can Help, by Elizabeth Levang, Fairview Press

Getting Back to Life When Grief Won’t Heal, by Phyllis Kosminsky, McGraw Hill

When grieving the loss of a baby or babies, maybe reading is the last thing we feel like doing.  In time, when things feel a little different, it may be helpful to have some titles to search out for comfort and connection.  Here are some suggestions for your consideration when you have the need.  I am so sorry for your loss:

Life Touches Life:  A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing, by Lorraine Ash, Newsage Press

Life After Loss, by Bob Deits, Fisher Books

Forever Our Angels, by Hannah Stone, www.lulu.com

Remembering Our Angels: Personal Stories of Healing from a Pregnancy Loss, by Hannah Stone, http://www.lulu.com

When a Baby Dies: A Handbook for Healing and Helping, by Rana K. Limbo & Sara Rich Wheeler, RTS Bereavement Services

Miscarriage, Women Sharing from the Heart, by Marie Allen & Shelly Marks, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby, by Deborah L. Davis, Fulcrum Publishing

The Worst Loss:  How Families Heal from the Death of a Child, by Barbara D. Rosof, Henry Holt & Co.

While there is a lot of literature available to support bereaved parents, there is less so for the survivors of multiple-birth and/or who lose their co-multiple later in life.  Multiples come into the world at the same time, but there is no guarantee they will leave it at the same time. What challenges do survivors face?  Below I have shared some of the existing books which I think are very supportive.  If I have missed any that you think should be added to this list, please let me know.

Twin Loss: A Book for Survivor Twins, by Raymond William Brandt.  Dr. Brandt lost his twin brother when they were 20 years old.  Dr. Brandt began the American organization, Twinless Twins, to support surviving co-multiples, parents, grandparents, healthcare professionals, bereavement counsellors and anyone else needing to learn about the unique twin relationship and the challenges when one dies.  Twinless Twins can be reached at http://www.twinlesstwins.org

The End of The Twins:  A Memoir of Losing a Brother, by Saul Diskin.  Saul lost his twin brother to cancer later in their lives.

Who Moved the Sun?:  A Twin Remembers, by Ron McKenzie.  Ron lost his twin brother, Don when they were 62 years old.

The Lone Twin: Understanding Twin Bereavement and Loss, by Joan Woodward.  Joan lost her twin sister when they were three years old.  In this book, Joan explores not only what her loss means to her, but after working in the multiple-birth field for several years and learning about multiples’ connections, Joan prepared this important and eye-opening book.  This is a must-read book for understanding and comprehension of what it means to lose a co-multiple at any point in life and what the survivor has to face moving on alone.

Living Without Your Twin, by Betty Jean Case.  Betty is a twin, had twin brothers and twin grandchildren.  In this book, Betty explores loss of a twin through death, suicide, murder, adoption and estrangement.  She discusses what it means to lose a twin, separation and reuniting and its challenges.

The Survivor, by Lynne Schulz.  Lynne’s first book was The Diary.  Lynne had boy/girl twins and her daughter, Meghan, did not survive.  Lynne addresses the challenges of raising a survivor of multiple-birth plus some of the challenges that parents can expect to have to face as their survivor navigates their lives without their womb-mate.  Lynne also discusses the challenges for her, as a parent, of loving and bringing up her son while knowing there should have been two children throughout the same journey.



“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”

— Anne Sullivan