We are born. We live. We die.
At the age of 21 Anne Meredith was studying toward a degree in World Religions at Victoria University in Wellington and working at a spiritual healing centre in town, which complemented her field of study rather nicely.
One day a man came in and asked whether they had the book ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.’ When Anne couldn’t find it on the shelves, the man said he would bring his own copy in for Anne to borrow, adding that it was requisite reading for someone in her field of study.
Once the book had been left in her care, Anne took it home and lapped it all up, finding herself in possession of a newfound understanding of the central tenet of Buddhist philosophy; the impermanence of all things.
Anne recounts a Buddhist parable, which describes this:
“A woman whose baby has died goes to Buddha and says ‘I will do anything if you will just bring my baby back to life’. Buddha replies ‘okay, bring me some mustard seeds from another home, but they must come from a home that has not experienced death’. The woman visits home after home but of course does not find a household untouched by death. Through this process woman reaches enlightenment, and her own understanding of the impermanence of everything”.
Not long after reading this book, Anne’s grandmother died. Anne drew upon those themes of impermanence in the speech she gave for her grandmother at her funeral. Following the ceremony the funeral director approached to congratulate Anne on her speech, noting that she would make a great funeral director.
A seed was planted for Anne that day, and Anne has lived ever since in the knowledge that she would one day work in the field of death and dying.
So while Anne went on to teach for the next twenty or so years and absolutely “loved it”, her interest in death and in dying, has endured. Throughout that time she has been involved with the organisations, ‘National Association for Loss and Grief’ and ‘Growing through Grief’ and has continued to be drawn to learning and talking about what she describes as “the biggest thing we will experience in life.”
It was while living and working with her family in Samoa from 2015 to 2019 that Anne realised that if there was ever a time to make the change it would be on their return to New Zealand. Going on that initial seed planted by the funeral director so many years ago Anne approached the local funeral directors, but there weren’t any opportunities going, which led to her discovery of this whole other, as yet untapped (here in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa at least), area of death care.
Death Doula [deth doo-luh]
Noun. The word comes from the Greek 'doulē' meaning 'female servant/slave'. Also known as a soul midwife or end of life doula, the support this person offers often focuses on the emotional, psychological and spiritual side of dying, as well as the more practical things.
Since returning to Aotearoa from Samoa in 2019 Anne has been working as a support worker, hospice volunteer, funeral celebrant and building the foundations for her business ‘Three Seeds’ in which she offers her services as an end of life doula and deathcare advocate. She is involved with a couple of national projects relating to deathcare and provides free community workshops on a variety of topics. She also led a fundraising campaign to provide a Cuddle Cot for our community, which is a cooling system for a baby that has died, allowing the family to spend some precious time with their child before saying goodbye.
Anne sees a big part of her role as empowering people to reclaim death care for themselves. She’s happy to be able to help people understand the range of options that actually exist in death care, and provides a supportive space in which people can ask all the questions they like, and can help with advance care planning. The best time for people to talk about death, Anne says, is when we are well.
“Practically there’s a lot to know about dying and things can get complicated. People often don’t know their options”. Anne is pro-choice. “Some people want the funeral directors to do everything”, and Anne says, we are lucky to have Funeral Directors who can provide that.
Others however, would rather do things themselves, or varying degrees of the process. Anne says that funeral poverty is a significant social issue of our times and she is glad that she can provide people with information about alternative ways of approaching deathcare, which can alleviate those huge costs commonly associated with it.
Ownership and environmental aspects are other factors in more and more people wanting to explore alternative pathways, “People are wanting more natural death care these days, and it’s easy to do that actually”.
Anne sells techni-ice, and has a mini freezer, which families can hire, which offers an alternative to embalming. She gives workshops on its use and is always happy to discuss this in the chats that she offers from her new Three Seeds premises.
After those initial chats or one of the various workshops that she offers to our community, Anne can walk alongside people and their whānau for parts of, or for the whole journey.
Annie loves her work because she sees it as such an important time of life and calls letting your people know what your death wishes are “a real gift of love”. Things can get really tricky when people don’t know what you want and Anne suggests that we all have a folder called ‘When I Die’ left somewhere that someone close to us knows about.
Through her role as a death doula and a deathcare advocate, Anne Meredith offers seeds of kindness, compassion and support before death, during and after death. And just as times of wellness are the best time for considering our own death, we think that this is a great time to have someone like Anne offering this service in our community.
Anne regularly holds free community workshops and has a sliding scale of rates for her services. You can set up a time to have a chat with Anne on 021 299 5774 or get in touch through her Facebook page @threeseeds.info
This story was brought to you by the good people at Tāiki e! who are leading local celebrations of Global Entrepreneurship Week next week. They aim to connect the diverse parts of our local entrepreneurial ecosystem, and inspire our community to embrace entrepreneurship as a tool for community transformation and long term impact, which Anne Meredith is certainly doing with Three Seeds.
Story & Photo Sarah Cleave