Notes from our May online cafe
As usual, we had multiple countries and multiple provinces represented on our Death Café this month – with long time participants and some first timers in our Zoom Room. The diversity of views is wonderful.
As always, reasons for participating and topics for discussion cover a lot of territory.
· A comment was made about death being sanitized and denied – many people are not exposed to death and may not have ever been to a funeral – how can we normalize the conversations and be more open to death?
o That is a common question for Death Cafes, and one of the reasons we exist – to normalize such discussions.
· An interesting Buddhist saying is that “Life is school, and death is the final exam”
· We experience grief all the time – we leave one place and go to another, thoughts come and go, relationships and jobs come and go – we need to be present, and open to see what is happening. We may grieve a job that ends while being excited to start a new one. Grief can be healthy – when it doesn’t interfere with healthy living. Need to honour the feelings – and seek assistance as needed. Many people need time to adjust to major losses and after some time of adjustment, may still need to allow themselves time to grieve (e.g., carve out some time each day to look at family photos etc.) – each person would need to figure out what works for them – it’s a very personal thing.
· Some people are so busy with the busy-ness of life, they may not enjoy it – e.g., when a young woman who was so busy taking photos at an event, was asked if she enjoyed the event, she had no idea! She was there but not “present”. Are we “present” all the time or just showing up?
· A riddle – What can make you sad when you are happy, and happy when you are sad?
o Answer – Change
· Things are changing around us all the time – be open and aware of it all – be present. For some people, meditation is a practice that helps with this – it is an effective approach for their anxiety.
· For some people, it may be calming to think about death as it may help them realize what is important and to recognize priorities and be less fearful.
· Numerous people spoke about the challenge of talking about death – some people may want to talk but their friends and family may not – or vice versa.
· One participant recently attended hospice volunteer training and had an insight from other volunteers – when she asked them about what to do if various scenarios came along, their wise advice was “if in doubt, be yourself” – there is no one, clear, precise way to do things – diverse opinions and approaches are good.
· Learning how to “feel” properly is important – to deal with the energy of emotions which are sometimes accepted and sometimes repressed – it may help to get out of our head (“stop the storyline in our heads”) and accept/be present with the energy in our bodies at the moment. Meditation, as an anchor in waves of emotion, may help some people with anxiety and grief.
· “My Stroke of Insight” book addresses this topic of allowing ourselves to feel (see below).
· Nursing homes were discussed and the challenge of seeing situations where people with dementia may seem to sit all day with little interaction – we may want to prevent that from happening to us – or we may think that at that stage, those persons may still be happy. We don’t know what we will think about our state then. We all want to maintain dignity but when we are at some later stage, we may have different views about what that means. We are not IN it now and don’t really know how “it” will feel. Having autonomy seems very important now. Our perceptions may evolve - we cannot control our fate – but we can work to keep our relationships as healthy as possible as we contemplate and prepare for death.
· We talk about having “our affairs in order” but do we have “our relationships in order”? Do we have conversations with family members, of all ages, to talk about these things? And what if they don’t want to talk about them…
· Society has changed so much – years ago, we cared for elders at home, and everyone was part of conversations. Now we have nursing homes, and the dying process can take a lot longer with medical advances that focus on prolonging life.
· If people are chasing life – looking for one more treatment – one more round of chemo – that is their decision. We need to be supportive, non-judgemental, regardless of their decision.
· One person, who has arranged a green burial and has wishes defined for end of life and spiritual care, has taken family to the cemetery to show them the spots, and has had good discussions.
· Carrying worry and anxiety may seem like a “waste of time” – we may be worrying about something that is simply not our problem – and anxiety may come from trying to control others’ approaches – if we want others to plan and they are just not going to do it, let it go – that is something they will have to come to on their own
· We were reminded of the Serenity Prayer – “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
· We also spoke about “bearing witness” – be there for loved ones. Be supportive as they decide for themselves and have the courage and wisdom to bear witness with them.
· Be curious and open to what happens – in life and death.
My Stroke of Insight (NY Times Bestseller) By Jill Bolte Taylor
On December 10, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. As she observed her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life - all within four hours - Taylor alternated between the euphoria of the intuitive and kinesthetic right brain, in which she felt a sense of complete well-being and peace, and the logical, sequential left brain, which recognized she was having a stroke and enabled her to seek help before she was completely lost. It would take her eight years to fully recover. For Taylor, her stroke was a blessing and a revelation. My Stroke of Insight provides a valuable recovery guide for those touched by brain injury and an inspiring testimony that inner peace is accessible to anyone.
https://www.lionsroar.com/from-suffering-to-awakening-3-ways-to-transform-your-emotions/ Pema Chödrön’s 3 Ways to Transform Your Emotions
https://whatsyourgrief.com/ This website has a signup for an email subscription that offers interesting articles and resources about grieving.