Re-Thinking Our Conversations About Death

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I recently attended a seminar or a forum if you will, at the San Francisco Zen Hospice Project called Open Death Conversations: End of Life Contemplations, which is dedicated to discussing aspects of death and dying to help change the experience of dying in our culture. By our culture, I am referring to the relationship we have with death in the western world.

Death Conversations & Our Relationship to Them

The forum was designed for people who wanted to investigate their response to death and dying–physically, emotionally and rationally and how we can have death conversations which are more healing in nature.  The facilitator led us through experiential activities (how it feels to be dying), guided contemplations, writing exercises, and group sharing.

nearing death conversations candlelight

We covered a range of topics such as the family experience, death conversations before, during and after death, grief and grieving, health care advance directives and wills, the language surrounding death and dying, and the possibility of an afterlife. One participant revealed that he actually was dying and had been told he only had months to live, which added a different perspective.

The Five Wishes document was introduced. Think it as something like an advance directive or living will, but focused on the personal, emotional, and spiritual needs, as well as one’s medical wishes. This document is honored by doctors in 42 states, so some should file it in addition to their state’s legal forms. The Five Wishes consist of Who Makes Medical Decisions When I Can’t, Type of Medical Care I Want, How Comfortable I Want to Be, How I Want People to Treat Me, and Things I Want Loved Ones to Know. It should be discussed with the caregivers and health care providers.

Also discussed were the mission, values, and legacy of the Zen Hospice Project, as well as volunteer opportunities there.  Suggested resources included books and films on death and dying. A big plus was mention of Death Cafe meetups in many major cities, where people regularly meet to discuss topics related to death to keep the conversation going. And, to keep the conversation healthy and supportive.

One of the day’s participants started a death-positive group to discuss and develop better and more meaningful rituals for our deceased loved ones.

Her Facebook page OmaiGrace is a public community page for sharing death and dying info, and has articles on home funerals, green burials, dressing the dead, and creating personalized rituals for our loved ones. She includes a video of the talk she gave about the personalized end of life rituals she created for her husband who died suddenly.

There is also info on death midwifing and death doulas (if we have doulas for birth; why not have them for death? Be sure to read  my article on what it means to be a Soul Midwife); singing and toning by the Threshold Choir; a story about a  new natural burial cemetery near Half Moon Bay; and a TED talk video “What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death.”

death conversations

Lisa Smartt wrote a great book around the language we use as we are nearing death, worth reading. Additionally, be sure to read my article on what it means and the value of using a Soul Midwife at the appropriate time in your life (can be so great for healing around the time of the death of a loved one).

Also, check out our other sections on spirituality, including spiritual events, spiritual health, spiritual products, spiritual reads (great books on spirituality), spiritual trips and spiritual voices which are our experiences with spiritual healers, practitioners, authors, teachers and gurus.


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