Lively conversations about death – Methow Valley News

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Photo courtesy of Bo Thrasher
Mazama resident Bo Thrasher is a “death doula” who helps people deal with end-of-life issues.

Death Café opens a difficult dialogue

Things at Death Café were happier than you might think. There were tears, of course, but there were also laughs, regrets, gratitude, questions and advice. Above all, there was wonder and awe – a sense of reverence for a process we will all know about, but few of us talk about.

A long-time Mazama resident and “death doula, Bo Thrasher recently collaborated with Methow at Home to host a Death Café, inspired by the model developed in England in 2011 by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid. Based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz, the Swiss sociologist and anthropologist who started the first “death café” in 2004, a Death Café is a social gathering designed to stimulate candid conversations about taboo topics, including death.

Thrasher’s interest in becoming a death doula – someone who helps others navigate end-of-life assistance from a logistical, spiritual, emotional, physical and practical perspective – stems from the workers of the hospice who helped her mother die peacefully at home. Through his death doula work, Thrasher “strives to help make the idea of ​​death and dying a natural part of our culture throughout the life cycle.”

“When my mother passed away, I marveled at the beauty and care with which she was treated by hospice,” Thrasher said as an introduction to Death Café. “I decided to work with people at the end of life. We were all born and we are all going to die. I wanted to be part of that, to think about how we think and talk about death, and how it affects life and how we want to live.

Reclaiming the word “doula” from its origins – “doule” in ancient Greek means “servant” – Thrasher and other death doulas around the world are reclaiming the process of leaving life behind, shaking our mortal coils and not in sterile environments frequented by strangers, but in sacred places and homes, surrounded by loved ones.

Thrasher said she and her fellow death doulas are “non-medical professionals who advocate for the dying, provide comfort and emotional support, work with hospice and healthcare professionals, and work with aftercare resources like funeral homes and cemeteries”.

Open chat

A Death Café has no agenda or theme; it is designed simply to open up the conversation about death. And like any non-themed gathering, the recent Methow Valley Death Café covered a range of topics. Some participants shared their own stories with death, ranging from a “horrific experience” of removing a father from life support to holding a mother’s hand as she breathed her last to reminiscing about her brothers and sisters. sisters while sorting through the parents’ affairs after the deaths of both. .

While the overwhelming message from those who have experienced the death of a loved one and have had to manage not only the body of the deceased, but later the property of the deceased is to “speak up about end-of-life concerns so you are on the safe same wavelength before death comes,” the suggestions were intensely personal and represented opposing perspectives.

One participant noted the gratitude she felt for her father’s care of his possessions before his death; her children will not end up with a house full of things to distribute and dispose of. Another agreed: “When you die you already leave your loved ones with a lot. If there’s anything you can do to make it easier for them to say goodbye without overwhelming them, you should do it.

But others said browsing through their parents’ possessions after they died was cathartic and bonding: ‘It helped us recognize the end of an era,’ one said. “We had so much fun putting stickers on things we wanted in my parents house,” another said. “It was just another way to connect with my siblings.”

Another participant shared the experience of attending a funeral planned by the deceased before his death, down to music, speeches and readings. “Every track was orchestrated and it felt stuffy to me. People weren’t as engaged as they would have been had they been involved in the planning,” she said. “It made me rethink my own possible memorial service. I have this favorite song that I always imagined it would play. But maybe that song won’t resonate with the people there. Maybe that part of dying is letting go, leaving it up to others to decide how best to celebrate and mourn with those left behind.

The same participant recounted that at her mother’s funeral, an aunt said to her, “Honey, life is for the living; you have to move on. She took this to heart and it reframed her thinking, not only about her own funeral, but where she might be buried.

“My family is still cremating and spreading ashes and my grandparents are in urns at a posh mausoleum in Seattle,” she said. “But I was recently at Beaver Creek Cemetery and was very moved – it was such a beautiful place to go and contemplate someone’s life.”

“Cremation is quite toxic to the environment,” she continued. “I always thought it was the best option, ecologically, but now I’m more interested in a really green burial.”

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” said another participant. “I have an arrangement with a carpenter friend to make me a wooden box. I want to return to earth.

She was echoed by another: “It’s important to me that all my molecules come back to life, and that doesn’t happen in a safe.”

Expanded Choices

Although options for body disposal are quite limited in Washington State, the range of choices has expanded to include aquamation (biocremation using lye and heat) and natural organic reduction (composting human). The People’s Memorial website (peoplesmemorial.org) offers educational workshops that provide information on body disposal options, as well as other death-related challenges, such as transporting bodies and coordinating funerals at residence.

The aftermath of death is a necessary part of the process, not for the deceased but for those left behind. Holding memorials, putting the body to rest, combing through possessions, packing up paperwork – all of these can be cathartic and help bring closure. But planning ahead not only makes this process smoother, but also helps “stimulate good thinking about how we want to live our lives,” said one participant.

But not all of the dialogue at the Death Café centered on the logistics of death and the legal and administrative consequences. At the heart of the conversation was the agreement that the journey between life and death remains mysterious, unknowable. Thrasher said, “Like birth, there’s that moment when you’re not really here or there, you’re in between. It is important to recognize these moments.

Several participants described the deaths of their parents – who were all surrounded by family and friends – as “incredibly beautiful”, “fairytale”, “deeply loving” and “wonderful”. One participant said she felt so lucky to have experienced the death of both parents at home that she would like to help others have similar experiences. “We resumed childbirth,” she said. “Now we need to empower people to take back death, to take control of the end of their life.”

“There is something in the last breath,” said another participant. “It sounds weird, but that last exhalation is a magical thing. It’s the transition into the unknown, the not-knowing. It’s just fascinating.

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