A Death Cafe, Death Doulas and a Dedication

October has been quite a month for me. It began with a trip to California for the biennial conference of the National Home Funeral Alliance (http://homefuneralalliance.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people reconnect with more traditional (and meaningful) practices in caring for the dead and dying. Did you know that it’s perfectly legal almost everywhere in the U.S. to care for your own loved one’s body following death — the same way people all over the world have done since the dawn of humanity? Did you know that there are people specially trained to assist the dying as they transition into death (sometimes called “death midwives” or “death doulas”), much the same as there are people trained to help mothers as their newborns transition into this life?  Were you aware that there are groups of compassionate, caring singers (“threshold choirs” — http://thresholdchoir.org/) who will come to the bedside of the dying, to help ease the transition?

The author with Caitlin Doughty

At the conference, I attended workshops that ranged from how to bathe and shroud a body, to spiritual practices in home funerals, to the nuts and bolts of becoming a “death doula.” I had the opportunity to meet leaders in the field, including best-selling author and “Ask a Mortician” star Caitlin Doughty. There was a special video feed from a well-known television star who had been so moved by the home funeral of his sister, that he wanted to reach out to the conference. There was a very emotional screening of the green burial documentary “A Will for the Woods.” In short, it was a whirlwind 48 hours, and I left both inspired, and just a bit overwhelmed.

Three days later, I drove from Cincinnati up to Gambier, Ohio, for the dedication of the Kokosing Nature Preserve (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/10/10/returning-to-the-earth.html). In less than two years, the good folks at the Philander Chase Corporation, under the stewardship of Amy Henricksen, have transformed a golf course into a lovely, conservation-based 20151008_161649natural burial sanctuary. Through periodic visits to Kokosing, and meetings with Amy, I have followed the progress there, with hopes of learning more in my pursuit of one day helping create a natural burial sanctuary in Southwest Ohio.

Then, earlier this week, I drove to Columbus to attend my first Death Cafe (http://deathcafe.com/what/). Though now a worldwide phenomenon, Death Cafes in America actually began in Columbus.  These gatherings (which always feature tea and cake!) death cafe postcardare open-minded, open-hearted, open-ended conversations about what is perhaps the most taboo subject in America.

At the Death Cafe I attended, participants ranged from nurses and health care professionals to cancer survivors to spouses and adult children of the elderly; they ranged in age from their 20s to their 70s. They shared one thing in common: A desire, and a need, to talk about death in a non-judgmental, agenda-free environment. And they were willing to have this conversation with strangers. Perhaps, in fact, it was better that way.

Inspired by the experience, I will be facilitating two Death Cafes in Cincinnati in November — on the morning of Monday, Nov. 2, from 10:30 to noon, and on the night of Tuesday, Nov. 17, from 7:30-9:00. You can read more at http://huuc.net/?p=4973.