Conversations about Death and Dying

L. Jay Stewart: Icon-Ican 3

L. Jay Stewart

The other day I chatted with two friends.  One mentioned a phenomena that is racing around the country called “Death Cafés.”  The other friend asked, “Oh, is that where you go to kill yourself?”  Then she stopped, looking doubtful and confused. Clarity often arises from a confused, not-knowing state. But in this case my friend scratched her nose and said, “That’s not right.”

Many people are confused about what to do about dying. Should we kill ourselves or let nature take its course? Shall we take our technology or have it withheld? In order to help readers in search of a good death make it through the medical system, the author Katy Butler has written the best selling book, Knocking at Heaven’s Door. She and her mother tried for years without success to get her demented father’s pacemaker turned off.  On the other hand, her mother, when it was her time, refused treatment which had a good chance of extending her life for many more years.  It was hard for Katy to let her go. Her book speaks to many people going through similar dilemmas.

Death Cafes are intended to create a safe and social space for people to gather and talk about death in a relaxed and sharing manner.  Although the name, Death Café, doesn’t really grab me, I like the idea of a salon.  It is an aspect of culture that is arising where people have a dinner or dessert potluck and share conversation about issues that matter. The only thing that slightly concerns me about so much talking about death is the question: Does talking help a person prepare to die? Andrew Holecek, the death authority and author, is teaching workshops to give people all they need to have a graceful exit with both the meditative and practical approach (workshop in Boulder, Colorado Nov. 1-2 as part of Shambhala Mountain Center “City Series”).  As far as death cafes or salons are concerned, perhaps it is a help for people to learn what they need to avoid being hooked to machines.  Also,  many people do need a place to talk about their experiences of caring for loved ones who have died, processing anxieties about diagnoses, and in general discussing the meaning of life.

Now that the country is as Sakyong Mipham says, “…at a crossroads in our history: we can either destroy the world or create a good future,”  a salon could be a good place to nourish and consider.  Perhaps it is a first step of processing toward letting go or toward the deep ”psychic shift” that we all must make: that human goodness is our heritage and the goal is not the grave.

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Ann Cason

Ann Cason,
Geriatric Consultant

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