Molly Carlile AM is dying to talk
Molly Carlile AM stars as one of the keynote speakers at next month’s Palliative Care NSW conference in Broken Hill.
Widely known as The Deathtalker®, Molly is an author, commentator and ambassador for Dying to Know Day. She has an extensive clinical background in specialist palliative care nursing and senior management experience in rural and metropolitan health services. Molly is CEO of South East Palliative Care in Melbourne.
Below, Molly answers questions from the Dying to Talk Discussion Starter. She explains what would be important at the end of life, if she had a condition she could not recover from.
Are there any pets that you would like to see or be with you, if this is possible?
I have a very grumpy cat who I don’t trust. She might take her revenge on me, particularly if I was bed bound!
My husband and I had a farm when our kids were little. We are ‘over’ pets as we had so many. Dogs, cats, ducks, chooks, orphaned lambs and kids (goats, not human) and the list went on. I think I’d rather spend my time with the people I care about and the bonus is, most of them don’t have fleas and won’t shed hair all over the doona.
“I’m taking you to a place where you can eat as many Twisties as you like and Collingwood wins the Grand Final every day.”
Would you prefer a quiet environment or do you prefer activity and chatter around you?
I’ve always lived in a loud, busy home. My family always had that wild Celtic thing going on; loud voices, raucous laughter, passionate exchanges of views and overt demonstrations of physical affection.
That environment followed me into my marriage. Even though my beloved is the quiet one, he’s learned to tolerate the speed and volume at which the rest of us function.
I love noise. Everyone in my street knows when I’m cleaning the house because David Bowie, The Cure or maybe Santana will be blasting out every window and the subwoofer will be lifting the house from its stumps. If you have to clean, you deserve to do it loud.
I’ll apply the same theory to my dying. I reckon I’ll want loud music, loud laughter, loud conversations and loud demonstrations of affection. But then again, I might get completely cantankerous and want peace and quiet. I doubt it, but I reserve the right to change my mind as the mood takes me. After all, it’s my death and I’ll do it my way!
What style of music would you be playing?
I have very eclectic tastes in music, from classical favourites (Rimsky-Korsakov, Mahler, Barber and Vaughn Williams) to soul (Kool and the Gang, and James Brown) and crooning (Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin).
I like loud, unintelligible music like Korn or Black Sabbath. I also like good music played loud, like David Bowie’s Under Pressure. I like Martin Hayes or Nigel Kennedy playing Celtic or classical violin so loud you can hear their fingers lift off and then land back on the strings.
There’s something about music that touches my soul; gentle, classical violin lifts me, joyous Celtic jigs lighten me and mournful melodies make me cry. The drone of the pipes stirs me, transporting me to another place and another time.
I’ve already told my beloved, my grown up kids and their partners that after my funeral, they are to all sit down in the lounge room with a good bottle of brandy. Even if they don’t like brandy, they must each pour a good nip into a crystal glass, close their eyes and listen to George Gershwin play Rhapsody in Blue from the first sliding trumpet scale, to the last crescendo.
I remind them every Christmas that this is the deal. Why? Because this was the piece of music that awakened my intense curiosity and love for classical music. I hope it will do the same for them, even if I’m not around to see it.
If possible would it be important to you to have time outside?
Absolutely, so long as I die in summer or spring! I hate the whole damn miserableness of winter. I’m winter-phobic. If I happen to be dying in winter, I wouldn’t want to be outside freezing to death.
If it’s warm and the breeze is gentle, the sun shining and the bees are buzzing, I’d be happy to spend time outside. I love my garden, my waterfall and pond where I can happily sit watching the fish swimming round for hours. I also like watching ants marching in long lines and navigating around sticks. My kids think this is weird, but I find it relaxing, just like watching the washing go round in the washing machine. I could do that for hours too. Maybe that is a bit weird…
Would you prefer to be surrounded by lots of family and friends, or would you prefer one or two closest people to be with you?
I want both. I want quality time with the people I love, one at a time and all together. I want joy and laughter. I want moaning and gnashing of teeth as well. I want them to be able to rant and rave and say “this isn’t fair” so I can comfort them and repeat what I’ve told them for years. “Death isn’t fair or unfair. It just is.”
I want the opportunity to weep and moan and say “this isn’t fair” and have them comfort me. I want no crap. No euphemisms, no keeping positive, no futile treatment, no futile use of my valuable time, no hiding how we’re all feeling. I don’t want visits from long-lost, never-were-my-friends-in-the-first-place type people. No being forced to do anything I don’t feel like doing, or being stopped from doing something I really want to do.
I want the people I love with me for as long as they feel okay to be there. I don’t want to waste time with people I don’t want to see, particularly if I haven’t had the guts to tell them that. My death will be a ticket-only event and I will decide who gets a ticket and who doesn’t. No correspondence will be entered into!
Are there any cultural or religious practices you would like to observe?
This is a hard one for me. I was brought up a Catholic, but now regard myself as more of a small-c catholic. I find more sense and meaning in the universality of a divinity that I neither understand nor need to. I find comfort in the mystery of it all.
I would like to be surrounded by people who can create a sense of serenity while I’m dying. I don’t want to follow Dylan Thomas’s advice and “rage against the dying of the light”. I want to be “one who had an eye for such mysteries” as Thomas Hardy said.
I may want a blessing as I drift towards the end, I’m not sure. I will certainly want time to connect in peace with my spiritual self, to pray, meditate and be thankful, but whether that looks traditional or not, I guess I’ll just wait and see.
I’m part of a very strong family culture that make us feel connected. Our little Carlile crew often speak a language of quotes and sayings that other people simply don’t get, but we think are hilarious. My wider family also have historic sayings and quotes that are different again. These things make up our family culture, a secret language with secret rituals that leads to us often having the same thoughts at the same time. We are a weird mob. Maybe that’s why our family culture is so important to me.
Is there anyone you would like to see or talk to?
It would be great to see an angel. I’m not too fussed which one, but if Arch Angel Michael, Gabriel or Raphael showed up I’d feel pretty relaxed about the whole thing. As I take my last breaths, it would be nice if my Dad appeared at the end of the bed and said, “Come on now love, I’m taking you to a place where you can eat as many Twisties as you like and Collingwood wins the Grand Final every day”.
Is there anything else that you would like?
I want my family supported to care for me. I want a good palliative care service with staff who know what they are doing and who give a hoot about me and my family. I want my personal care to be provided by people other than my family, even if we have to hire a private carer.
I want my little people to crawl over the bed and rough me up without grownups telling them not to hurt me.
I want to be able to talk openly and honestly about my death with all those I love, no matter how old or young they are.
I want my friends to provide my after-death care, to make sure no funeral person puts makeup on me or stuffs around with my hair.
I want my burial shroud made by Pia Interlandie well before I die (we’ve already discussed this). I want to be buried in a shroud only, but to lie in a wicker coffin for my funeral. I want a bowl of Twisties on top of my coffin.
Most of all I want to leave the world a little better for having lived. If I can make sure more people feel empowered to talk about death, find information, support the people around them and plan for their own eventual death I’ll have done my job.
How did you feel during the process of completing this form? Was there anything about the process that interested or surprised you?
I think about this stuff a lot. If I didn’t I’d be a fraud, being the Deathtalker ® and all. But I learn new things every day. I try to keep my eyes, ears, mind and heart open to new experiences, new information, new awareness and new insights.
I never cease to be surprised by the little parcels of knowledge that are filed away in the small recesses of my brain, like at Gringotts Bank in Harry Potter. Then all of a sudden there they are, foremost in my mind when I need them for something.
I find myself thinking, “Did I always know that?” or “When did I learn that without realising it?” or more spookily, “Did someone else put that information in that parcel and store it in my brain?”
There’s a new book in this idea I’m sure. So there’s the interesting thing about undertaking this process for me. An idea for my fifth book!
Early bird registrations to the Palliative Care NSW Transforming our Landscape conference close on 31 August. For more details and to register, click here.