Why we shouldn’t fear dying alone, or monothanatophobia


The sunrise burns off the morning mist over the remains of trenches in the Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont Hamel on November 09, 2018 in Albert, France.

by Deirdre Pike

Despite growing up in a death-denying culture, place and time in Canada, pretty long past the days where dead bodies were openly displayed and waked at a family home instead of a funeral home, I have come as far as my 57th year (starting this week) with an openness to conversations about death and dying not normally heard among my peers.

There are many experiences that may have contributed to this. Perhaps being born in November, the Month of the Dead, just two days after Remembrance Day, had an impact. Being named after Ireland’s Deirdre of the Sorrows (not intentionally, my mom assures me) who is said to have died by suicide, perhaps by having her head smashed on a rock by the passing royal chariot (nice touch), may have played a part in my ability to banter about death more freely than others.

Becoming a Catholic, when I was 15, introduced me to ways of ritualizing death and praying for the dead just in time to help me cope with the deaths of seven of my high school peers in three separate car accidents and my stepbrother’s death by suicide a year later.

I also credit my love of excellent rock music for giving me a healthy outlook on death. Take Pink Floyd, for instance.

“And I am not frightened of dying, any time will do, I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it, you’ve gotta go sometime.”

Lying in bed (just like Brian Wilson did) as a teenager, falling asleep, high, with giant headphones blasting these lyrics into my brain, coupled with Trooper’s, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time,” has pretty much described my approach to death, and therefore life, or my approach to life, and therefore death.

It’s that approach, 14 years of parish ministry and more that I have been bringing to what’s called a “Social Innovation Lab.” In this case, the laboratory includes 25 or so palliative care clinicians, social activists, consumers, policy and system leaders, health care leaders and change agents from across Canada to concentrate for six solid days on one question: “How can we change the culture of our health system so the palliative approach, which creates a truly person-centred system, becomes the norm across the whole system?”

This “Palliative Care and Complexity Science Laboratory” is what brought me to be sitting in a circle of a dozen or so residents from a local seniors’ apartment building with three palliative care doctors, discussing monothanatophobia — the fear of dying alone. Although the word itself was brand new to me and all of the people who accepted our invitation to come and discuss it, the concept wasn’t.

We chose our topic after reading about the man who died alone in Hamilton’s social housing recently and went undiscovered for a couple of days before a woman below found some of his remains leaking into her apartment. Nobody wants that to be the story of their last days alive — or dead — on Earth.

There is strong evidence to show why we need to be more intentional about building community now and in the days ahead. Data about living situations from the 2016 Canadian census show for the first time that the number of one-person households has surpassed all other types of living situations. More than a quarter of all households were people living alone.

Applying the principles of palliative care means having conversations about living, not dying. It’s more than making sure community exists to support people in their final days of life. It’s also making sure people are connected while they’re living in a way that respects privacy yet decreases social isolation so no one dies alone.

One great read I recommend on the topic of death and dying is “Talking About Death Won’t Kill You,” by Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller.

With an essential chapter for anyone on social media called, “Posting, Tweeting and Texting: Dying in a Digital World,” I urge you to make this a holiday gift to your family so you can “out” the conversation of death and dying to make it, as Kortes-Miller says, a logical extension of our living.”

Complete Article HERE!

A Place for Death in the Life of the Church

What does faithful ministry look like in a church that sees more funerals than baptisms?

BY

I remember the first time I touched a dead body. It was at my grandfather’s funeral. You know the scene: attendants in boxy black suits, the cloying scent of flowers, tissue boxes, breath mints, dusty funeral parlor furniture. As the sad murmur of relatives droned all around, I stepped up to the coffin and quickly reached in to touch his embalmed hands, folded nicely on his belly. They felt like cold, soft leather.

That was when death was still an anomaly to me, an outlier. Now it has become familiar, a recurring pattern in recent weeks and months. For the past several years, I’ve served as a pastor in a suburban parish, an evangelical who made his home in a mainline church. I don’t run the show, since I’m a lay pastor, but I’ve been there for most of the funerals. In the past few years we’ve had almost 40 in our parish. Those are a lot of faces I won’t get to see any more on Sunday mornings. Death is no longer a stranger to me; it is a regular part of my life.

This has been one of the more difficult parts of being a pastor, seeing people who faithfully served our Lord over decades take ill and start a steep decline. These deaths don’t have the shock of tragedy, of teenagers hit by cars or babies born without breath. Still, the dull ache of sorrow is there.

It wasn’t always this way for me. I grew up in a thriving megachurch (by Canadian standards, anyways), and I took it for granted that slowly and surely our congregation would continue to expand. And it did, all through my teen years. As I looked out over the congregation on Sunday mornings, I could see a diverse group of people from ages 15 to 60. But children were most often annexed to their age-appropriate ministries, seniors were few and far between, and funerals were not a constant. The bulk of our congregants were in the prime of life.

Later, when I began my pastoral ministry in a congregation that skewed to those over 65, I became frustrated as our church struggled to thrive. Growth no longer just seemed to happen. And though we saw many young families drawn deeper into the life of Christ, we also lost many veteran saints. I learned to care for the very young as our nursery filled up, and I learned to walk with the aging as they lost the strength to sit in our pews.

Though I looked longingly at congregations that seemed to expand effortlessly, I learned to love the slow work of pastoring a struggling congregation. I took in the beauty of a woman in her 80s dancing with toddlers and singing worship songs. And I remember the 70th wedding anniversary of a couple that faithfully attended worship for just as many years. These quiet miracles don’t have the same luster as other “vibrant” ministries I’ve been a part of, but nonetheless, they witness to the patience and love of God. I came to appreciate the church as the body of Christ formed of the whole people of God, from young to old—even those heading to their graves.

Pastoring an Aging Congregation

Death does not fall outside the life of Christ’s Body; it is a threshold through which we all must walk. Recognizing death as part of our common Christian life allows for a more expansive vision of God’s redemption, which begins the day we are conceived and carries us into our dying

I’ve come to appreciate my close experiences with death. When I look at large, booming churches or hip, thriving church plants, I wonder if their pastors experience the regular privilege of burying octogenarians. I’m glad for these growing churches, insofar as people are having encounters with Christ and his Word. I wish so many of the churches in my denomination would thrive like that. Yet I’m learning to appreciate aging congregations like my own in which the whole community of faith mourns with the death of each faithful servant.

I recently read Kate Bowler’s book, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. Bowler was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at age 35. She was enjoying a vibrant career, academic success, and a wonderful home with her husband and toddler. The news of her cancer seemed to crush all of that. Life had to be put on hold for chemo, rest, and preparation for dying.

She writes in her memoir about churches in which blessings come as the direct result of fierce faith. She writes, “The prosperity gospel is a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil. It is an answer to the questions that take our lives apart. … The prosperity gospel looks at the world as it is and promises a solution. It guarantees that faith will always make a way.” Bowler writes that she tacitly held to a tamer form of prosperity gospel logic. She expected that, if she followed Jesus, things would go pretty well because God loves her and wants her to have a good life.

I often find myself believing the same thing about my church: if we worship Jesus and do his will, he will bless us with new members and increased vitality. Stagnant membership and death in the congregation feel like punishments for lack of faith.

But God throws wrenches in the wheels of our theological systems. We get fired. We get divorced. We get sick. We die.

Our local congregations lose their liveliness. They suffer from conflicts. They struggle to raise funds. They shrink

Christians believe that “death is swallowed up in victory” (Isa. 25:8, 1 Cor. 15:54). Our faith is built upon the fact that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. But our experience of death is not always so straightforward. Our sojourn still leads to our bodies being cremated or placed in a coffin.

Helping People Reckon with Death

In many churches I’ve attended, death was pushed to the margins. It was treated like an interruption to God’s work in the world, not as an instrument by which God draws people more fully into his own life. I’m not saying we should love death—after all, it’s still “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). But part of living as disciples is learning to die well.

Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College, writes,

“To die well” is to locate what is good somewhere outside our control—in the God who gives and receives our lives. It is also to allow that alien goodness, the goodness of God’s transcendent superintendence over life and its temporal duration, to inform the very meaning of our vulnerability to illness, suffering, and death.

In other words, by embracing death in our churches, we allow our creator to give meaning to our human weakness.

Stanley Hauerwas notes in God, Medicine, and Suffering that Western culture shifted from preparing Christians to die well in the medieval period to franticly attempting to cure us from death in contemporary society. He writes, “We have no communal sense of a good death, and as a result death threatens us, since it represents our absolute loneliness.” According to Hauerwas, we need to learn once again how to grapple with our mortality.

Stories like Bowler’s, then, make me wonder about the kind of church we ought to be. What might it mean to be a church where people regularly come face to face with death? How can we present the gospel in a way that changes hearts, but also ministers to people whose earthly lives will never return to “normal?”

One way in which pastors can deal with death is by talking about it openly in sermons and in conversation. I remember talking with a friend who has since passed away from cancer. He told me that many of the Christians he encountered didn’t want him to talk about the possibility of death. They wanted him to stay positive, focusing on things he could do to get better. He knew that he wouldn’t, but he felt the pressure to stay positive for the sake of others. When I talked frankly with him about the possibility of death, he seemed to breathe easier. In naming death, he allowed the grace of God to come to him even there.

We talk about illness and aging as “battles”; to die is to lose these battles. But staying alive is a battle we all lose eventually—some quickly, some slowly—so we might as well invite God’s presence into our dying. In the cross we understand our living and our dying. What better place to learn this than the church? Who better to initiate these conversations than pastors? Sure, I want my church to be dynamic, vibrant, growing; I pray to God for this. But I also want to cultivate a church where people can reckon with death, worshiping a savior who won his victory hanging from nails pinned to a wooden cross.

Complete Article HERE!

Death’s a party

At monthly mortuary gatherings, Grass Valley duo the Posy-Filled Pockets encourage mortals to look forward to their last breath

By

I’m uncomfortable with death. A staunch atheist who grew up Christian, I used to believe heaven or hell awaited me on the other side. It took years of anxiety attacks and therapy to come to terms with mortality, with there being nothing afterward, and I find peace by not thinking about it.

But tonight, the whole point is to think about it. The mortician warns us that at any moment, someone’s dead body could interrupt the show. Even mine.

Tim Lilyquist coolly gives the omen to the 25 or so seated at the Chapel of Angels Mortuary in Grass Valley. His death-positivity group Posy-Filled Pockets is just beginning its October presentation. The projector screen reads: “Death. Everyone’s doing it.”

It’s not like we’ll see a literal dead body (though if we hear commotion in the back, Lilyquist says it could be because of that). A fresh corpse would remind us that, even though we’re all here to laugh, learn and contemplate our unexistence, death strikes at any time. Tonight’s topic of discussion: the afterlife.

Lilyquist and founder Rachel James open the night by defining death positivity, which boils down to allowing death to be a part of everyday conversation, even if it’s scary.

“Death is something our culture is extremely weird about,” James told SN&R. “We don’t talk about it, we don’t plan for it, and anyone interested in it is considered morbid or weird when it is the only personal experience besides birth really that we all have.”

Four speakers gave talks that were funny, morbid and informative. One made a case that seances, mummies and telephones were ways humans tried to call up the dead. Another theorized that water is a parasite that infects and animates our otherwise lifeless bodies. She used The Stuff as a metaphor. In the ‘80s B-horror movie, railroad workers discover a tasty, yogurt-like substance growing out of the ground, which they package and sell like hotcakes. It turns out, it’s alive and mass-consumes its consumers. To add to the strangeness, she offered everyone water before she started. Sneaky!

In the modest church space, it felt somewhere between awkward youth group night, lo-fi Ted Talk and a giggling gathering of goths. But it’s more than that. At the front of the show, James told the crowd that the talks are meant to lure you into the workshops—the less peculiar part of the project—where they help people with more pragmatic issues related to death, including how to create a living will, who to call first when a loved one passes, and eco-alternatives to embalming. You know, stuff we should be planning for, but our culture’s aversion to death gets in the way.

Posy-Filled Pockets cofounder Tim Lilyquist found his calling as a mortician.

Several recent studies confirm this. One in 2017 by caring.com showed that only four out of 10 Americans have a trust or living will. A 2013 survey by the Institute of Medicine showed that 90 percent of Americans thought it was important to have end-of-life discussions with their loved ones, but only 30 percent did. And a 2013 Pew Research Center report showed that 47 percent of Americans have experienced a death in their lives.

If listening to macabre presentations softens people enough to start planning for death in a responsible way, then James says she feels like she’s succeeded.

Though Posy-Filled Pockets started in 2016, it went on hiatus that year when James found out that her father was diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer. His death, and her similar diagnosis a year earlier, made much of what she advocates become crystal clear.

DEADx Talks

Death positivity is now a national movement. One of its most prominent figures is Caitlin Doughty, a mortician who wrote a morbidly funny memoir titled Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and founded the death acceptance organization called Order of the Good Death, which shares death-positive content online and hosts similar gatherings to Posy-Filled Pockets.

James was one of the first people to join the Order. At the time, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, an offbeat travel site with her own personal focus often being on death-related destinations, like an abandoned brothel in Lassen County that is rumored to be haunted.

“I’ve always been drawn to [death], and I think for most of us who are in the death industry, it’s because we experienced death in early age or had an experience that left us with a lot of questions,” James says.

In 2015, James’ surprise breast cancer diagnosis led her to move back to

Cofounder Rachel James, one of the first to join the Order of the Good Death, was a travel writer and editor for an obscure travel magazine called Atlas Obscura.

Grass Valley, her hometown. She put writing on hold and got a double mastectomy while in her second trimester with her now 3-year-old son.

She’s in remission now. The experience was shocking, but James says it showed her death wasn’t an abstract concept.

“I had never thought about a [living will], or anything like that,” James says. “How can I be so involved in this topic and still not have thought about the practicalities of it for myself? It kind of got me more serious about the topic.”

Later that year, she met Lilyquist. As a kid, he imagined himself as a homicide detective, but with no real interest in law enforcement and a dead-pan sense of humor, it transmuted into death industry work, which he’s happy doing. He says he enjoys the questions folks have regarding his career choice, like what happens in the cremation process.

“Once I started working at the mortuary, I saw how widespread it was that people considered death a taboo subject,” Lilyquist explains. “Especially the topic of grief. It definitely helped expose me to a greater variety of how it’s affecting people.”

James insisted that he co-host a death-themed monthly event that was distinctly Grass Valley. The initial Posy-Filled Pockets was a success, something James wasn’t sure about at first, since the Nevada County small town is no Los Angeles or San Francisco, where similar Death Salons are sometimes held at convention centers.

Lo-fi elements are part of its charm. Many of the speakers aren’t professionals, including Courtney Williams, who’s spoken twice at Posy-Filled Pockets. Once about how “fashion kills” (about people wearing dresses dyed with arsenic, for instance) and a second time about her ex-husband’s suicide.

“People are normally uncomfortable in mortuaries,” Williams says. “You think it’s probably an awkward conversation so maybe people won’t be raising their hands and laughing about stuff. People were really engaging with the information, which was surprising to me.”

In 2019, Posy-Filled Pockets have several themed events and workshops lined up, a new website, new speakers and a podcast in the works. Lilyquist and James are resurrecting their efforts to get people talking about death.

But after watching Posy-Filled Pocket’s presentation, I realized that death-positivity isn’t just about thinking about the end; It’s about cracking jokes, finding weird stories to spin and studying all the oddball edges of this scary seemingly straight-forward topic, and having fun with something we are told is in no ways fun.

It is pretty strange that we all eventually cease to exist one day, and why not celebrate that? My dog, who’s blissfully unaware of death, will never know the joy of laughing at her mortality.

Complete Article HERE!

Death as a Design Challenge

Last year Elaine Fong’s mother used the Washington Death with Dignity Act. Elaine shared the experience of helping her mother fulfill her end-of-life wishes in a TEDx San Francisco presentation in October 2017.

Elaine told us, “Our family is grateful to have given our mom a peaceful death and to fulfill her end of life wishes in this way. I wanted to share the experience we had with the world, because I understand how important it is to have this honest conversation, and because it was her wish to help others be brave too. Her life would have ended painfully if it were not for this policy and the work you all have done.”

The Creepy And Fascinating History of How Humans Get Rid of Their Dead

By MIKE MCRAE

When your old Aunt Petunia passes away, there’s a good chance her body will either be reduced to ash inside a purpose-built kiln or buried in an expensive (but not too expensive) wooden box next to the decaying remains of Uncle Harold.

If only she’d lived in another time, or another place, things could have been very different.

Different cultures have disposed of human remains in wide variety of ways, some a little more colourful than others.

And we might need to revisit some of them soon, because, let’s face it, we can’t keep packing our dead into prime real estate.

In this 5-minute TED-Ed video, historian and author Keith Eggener digs deep into the past of funerary practices to explore how today’s cemeteries evolved, and imagines where they’ll be in the future.

The history of the human funeral is a tough topic to study. Other animals typically have little to do with the remains of their loved ones, and if we go back far enough, our ancestors were no different.

So at some point in history we went from stepping around dead bodies to purposefully disposing of them. Identifying when this change took place is a bit of a challenge.

Several hundred thousand year old hominin bones found in a pit in Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains were once hypothesised to be the oldest evidence of a mortuary ritual, on account of being found among tools nobody in their right mind would throw down a hole.

Recent research has cast doubt on that thought, suggesting the much more gruesome explanation of cannibalism and leaving the question of just when our rituals first evolved up for debate.

Neanderthals were almost certainly interring the remains of the dead with respect tens of thousands of years ago.

The charred remains of an Australian Aboriginal woman near Lake Mungo represent the oldest cremation, at around 40,000 years old. So we’ve been disposing of the dead for at least as long as that.

Even if we can’t settle on an exact ‘when’, we’re left with the question of ‘why?’

Mortuary practices were well underway long before writing was a thing, so we can only speculate their reasons.

Eggener suggests the first burials might have been less than reverent, with those low on the social ladder being thrown into a pit while those higher up were given a fancy send-off.

At some point it’s possible that some viewed burial as a more appealing option, preferring it to being dried or eaten in plain sight.

Whatever the inspiration was, burials were relatively common by the time the first settlements appeared around 10,000 years ago. Cultures far and wide began to store their dead in shared locations, such as underground catacombs or suburban necropolises.

In fact, we get the word ‘cemetery’ from ancient Greek words meaning sleeping chamber.

Today we see these kinds of landscapes as sombre spots for quiet contemplation. Yet this whole ‘rest in peace’ attitude has also varied throughout the centuries.

Eggener describes the medieval cemetery as a place where markets and fairs were often held, and farmers would graze their livestock (apparently grass grown over graves made for sweeter milk – try using that in your advertising these days!).

Our historical appreciation of the cemetery as a community centre began to lose its appeal by the end of the 19th century, coinciding with the rise in popularity of public parks and botanical gardens, says Eggener.

But even today there a range of funeral alternatives still in practice.

Various forms of so-called sky burial can still be found in remote parts of Tibet and Mongolia, for example, where bodies are deliberately left to the elements and scavengers to consume.

There are also plenty of examples of mummification still happening around the world, where bodies are preserved in some manner before being housed with dignity.

Expanding populations in city centres and value in recycling and reusing resources might soon see an end to the traditional cemetery, forcing us to rethink our attitudes towards the dead.

Knowing what the future of death will look like is almost as speculative as understanding our past. Eggener has a few suggestions which are well worth considering.

Maybe Aunt Petunia should be turned into a tattoo. It’s not like she wanted to spend eternity next to Uncle Harold anyway.

Complete Article HERE!

Mortals Anonymous:

Inside the Cafés Where People Go to Talk About Dying

By Lexi Pandell

We sat in a circle, clutching paper cups full of steaming coffee and tea. First, I said my name. “Hi, I’m Lexi.” What came next wasn’t an admission of addiction, but a statement about what I feared most about death. “I fear the unknown,” I began, but paused. That didn’t quite sum it up. My voice tight from nerves, I added, “Nothingness. Losing everything I’ve ever known. The whole thing, really.”

This is life at Death Café, an event where strangers gather to snack and chat about shuffling off this mortal coil. It sounds (literally) morbid, but in this Age of Anxiety, as people grapple with climate change, threats of violence, and political and economic instability, death lingers on many people’s minds. A fear of dying is at the root of all those stressful issues and, as Sheldon Solomon put it when speaking to The Atlantic in 2015, those things are “all malignant manifestations of death anxiety running amok.” It’s cyclical: Anxiety spiral, fear of death, bad decisions, rinse, repeat. Despite this, people rarely talk about their own mortality. Death Cafés strive to break that taboo.

That moniker—Death Café—is both the name of the organization that came up with a format for these death-discussion groups and the term for the meetings themselves. The gatherings can be hosted anywhere—community centers, living rooms, hospices, or regular old coffee shops. I attended one in a funeral home. They cost nothing to attend and, as the official website reads, “in the Death Café there are no hierarchies. We all meet simply as people who are going to die.” Though some attendees may have lost loved ones, it’s not a place for bereavement or grief counseling. It’s also not the place to attempt to convert anyone to a religion. Rather, it’s intended as an open, salon-style conversation. The experiences I’ve had varied wildly: At one of them, two people claimed to have seen ghosts. Another veered toward practical discussions of funeral and estate planning. I’ve met people who’ve had near-death experiences, who are terminally ill, who deal with death as part of their daily work, who are afraid of death (or not), and who believe in the afterlife (or, like me, don’t).

The gatherings are run like AA meetings about death (think of it as MA: “Mortals Anonymous”), but the precise format depends on the host. The greatest commonality is offering attendees something to eat or drink, typically cake or another sweet accompanied by coffee or tea. “It’s life-sustaining,” says Megan Mooney, Death Café’s social media head. “It makes people feel more comfortable talking about death.”

The concept began with “café mortels,” created in 2004 by Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz. The events were adapted and popularized as “death cafés” by Jon Underwood, who held the first one in the basement of his London home. Soon after, he and his mother, Sue Barsky Reed, started an official website with guidelines for anyone who wanted to host their own. From the beginning, the Death Café organization has been not-for-profit and run entirely by volunteers. Today, associated events are held in more than 60 countries. Though Underwood died suddenly last year at age 44, his mother and his sister, Jools Barsky, now run the organization.

Memento Mori

Death, you could say, is having a moment. Organizations like Underwood’s—as well as Death Salon and Death Over Dinner—are helping people talk about it. YouTube channels like Caitlin Doughty‘s popular “Ask a Mortician” are helping people learn about it. So, too, is Doughty’s group The Order of the Good Death, which aims to bring together funeral industry professionals, academics, artists, and others to help our death-phobic culture confront mortality. There has even been a recent spate of buzzy death-related books, like Mary Roach’s Stiff or Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.

Yet, when it comes to appropriate cocktail party conversation, death is often put in a corner along with sex and money. Many prefer to avoid it altogether, even when faced with old age or terminal illness.

Our aversion to death is rooted, of course, in evolution. In psychology, there’s a term known as “terror management theory,” which refers to the fact that, while humans intellectually understand the inevitability of death, our survival instinct protects us from fully confronting it. Many, instead, seek a kind of immortality through their beliefs about the afterlife, their offspring, or even fame. Humans are wired to fear dying—and to be superstitious about it.

“People don’t want to talk about death because talking about it makes it real,” says Mooney, who researches mortality for the University of Missouri and is also a social worker for hospice and end-of-life care. “But there’s a saying in the Death Café world that talking about sex won’t make you pregnant and talking about death won’t make you die.”

Still, it’s scary at first. Do you remember the first time you realized you were going to die? Like, really realized it? I do. For me, it happened around age 9 during a visit to my grandparents’ home in Long Island. As I lay in a twin-sized guest bed listening to the sound of cicadas chirruping in the humid summer night, an understanding of my mortality hit me like a wave. Nothing in particular inspired this feeling, but there it was, definite and staggering. Someday, I will die. A pit grew in my stomach, the edges of my vision went dark. I cried out for my mother and when she came to me I told her, sobbing, what I’d been thinking about. Ever the realist, she brushed back my hair and said, “Of course, sweetheart. We all will. But you won’t for a very long time, so try not to worry about it.”

I worried anyway. Throughout childhood, I probably obsessed about death more than the average kid considering I kept a folder on my computer’s desktop titled “In Case I Die.” (Naturally, it was full of terrible poetry to read at my funeral, letters to friends, and directives about who should inherit my book collection in case of my untimely demise.) It was twee more than practical, but when I was a teenager, several family members died without planning much—one after a battle with terminal disease, another more suddenly—leaving the rest of the family to deal with their possessions and unclear wishes amid our grief. I vowed I wouldn’t pass as they did.

Yet seriously thinking about my own mortality still terrified me, even years later as I got my start in journalism as a crime reporter and became inured to regularly reading grisly coroner’s reports. Eventually, it was time to face the music. I forget how I first learned of Death Café, but the concept hit on something I needed to explore.

Funeral Parlor

Like me, Louvain Rees’ interest in death changed after her father passed. Today, she’s a historian who studies death and remembrance in Welsh culture. Because there were no Death Cafés hosted near her in Wales, Rees will soon be hosting one of her own at St. Fagans National Museum of History, which will include handling sessions with the museums’ “mourning collection,” such as jewelry made from human hair. “I cannot say that I have fully accepted the inevitable,” she says, “but I am in the process of doing so.”

Discussing death can feel a bit like talking about a hangover while you’re still enjoying the party, yet it can be immensely liberating and help prioritize what’s important in life. Mooney, who grew up dreaming of being a mortician, hosted her first Death Café in 2013 and, since then, has helped kick off events in Hong Kong and Austin. A pivotal moment came when her death-avoidant father attended the first café she ever hosted. Soon after, he began picking out funeral songs. “Every time I got in the car, he played Patty Loveless’ ‘How Can I Help You Say Goodbye,'” she says. “From that, he planned his funeral, made health care directives, did everything.” Death Café not only helped him confront his own mortality, she says, but made things much easier for her when he passed away nine months ago.

“I started making some big changes in my life because I didn’t feel like I was being true to myself,” Mooney says. “I felt I was just existing in certain areas of my life.”

Likewise, attending Death Cafés have loosened something in me. I haven’t gotten over all of my fears, and that’s fine. Death Café doesn’t aim to eliminate existential dread; it’s just about opening dialogue about something we’ll all have to face someday. It’s eye-opening to walk into a room full of strangers and remember that you have one essential thing in common. I’ve always been the youngest one in the room at these meetings and, several times, people have come up to me at the end of meetings to commend me for it.

“You’re so young to be thinking about death,” one older woman said to me. “I wish I had done this at your age.”

Complete Article HERE!

Exercise can help you work through grief

”The death of a mother is the first sorrow wept without her”
— unknown
.

By Kathy Hansen

On Oct. 21, my world was rocked with the somewhat sudden loss of my mother. Although she lived an amazing 85 years, I was not prepared for the depth of the loss I felt that day and am still feeling as I write this column. I had heard through the years that the death of your mother is a loss like no other, and boy is that spot on. I have never felt so sad, angry and lost all at the same time ever in my life.

With the passing of time, the help of some wonderful friends and my church family, I know that eventually I will be OK. At the present however, sleep is hard to come by and my healthy diet has gone out the window with all the well-meaning folks bringing by comfort foods. The one thing I have been able to maintain, however, is my exercise routine.

Any significant loss in your life can trigger a powerful grieving process. A death in your family, the loss of a pet, divorce, or even being laid off may send you whirling down a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Numbness, anger, denial, despair, isolation, and depression all are par for the course when you’re grieving. What makes it even more frustrating is that it is not always an orderly process. I find myself being sad one moment, angry or “salty” as I like to call it the next, to feeling OK for a while. It is really frustrating and draining.

When you’re in the throes of such intense emotion, your instinct may be to isolate yourself alone in your bedroom, or it may be to surround yourself with people for distraction. There is no right or wrong process, only what works for you, but there is one activity that seems to offer benefit universally for virtually every grieving person who tries it, and that is exercise.

Here are a few of the ways that exercise can help you get through your grief:

— Improves your sense of control: Grieving and loss take all of your sense of control away. Intense exercise where you have to focus to perform the activity gives you control back.

— Increased circulation to the brain: Exercise of any kind increases blood flow to the brain. When you are in the throes of grief, it is hard to think straight. Exercise can remove the brain fog and help you focus on more positive thoughts.

— Improved sleep: People who exercise are able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep. Inability to sleep is a huge side effect of grief. By making sure you are keeping up your fitness routine, you can get the rest you need to deal with your emotions.

— Relieves depression: Exercise is one the best ways to alleviate depression. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, all natural and body-made mood elevators. This can alleviate the need for the use of pharmaceuticals to manage your grief.

— Relieves anxiety: The loss of a loved one can trigger tons of anxiety. Working through funeral arrangements, wills, etc., can be a huge stressor. Exercise can trigger the body to release what are called GABA neurotransmitters in the brain that can induce a feeling of calm.

While exercise will not take the pain and sadness of your loss away, it can help you get through it. Grieving is a process that has to be worked through to the end. I am trying my best to look at it like a CrossFit WOD. I know the workout is going to be long, grueling and sometimes painful but, in the end, it will make me a stronger person.

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