The third Albuquerque Death Cafe on May 23 was a big success! About 14 participants were expected and 20 showed up. Asked if the group wanted to split into two smaller groups of 10 for discussion, the consensus was to keep everyone in on the same conversation.
As one participant described it, our main concerns at this Death Cafe were medical/healthcare issues, legal/estate topics, and spiritual elements, including passing on our values, and speculation about what happens after our bodies die. Here are a few highlights of this Death Cafe’s discussions.
The stuff of our lives was a big concern. One woman discussed going through a family member’s photos and possessions, and she had no idea about the value of the items or who was in the photos – except for pictures that had Theodore Roosevelt in them. The person who had died was convinced death was optional and never going to happen. That person did not have “their affairs in order.”
Another woman said that she has labeled her photo albums and art work. She fears that a $500 piece of artwork might be sold for a pittance at a yard sale. Another woman who doesn’t want to be a burden to her children has done everything she can to detail her possessions and why they are important, and where the keys are to everything (and what they open).
“How do we be prepared when we don’t know when or how our death will come?” asked one woman. “We need to always have our affairs in order.” The paperwork of wills, trusts, advance directives and cremation authorization must get done to avoid conflict and heartache among those left behind.
Howard Seltzer and his wife Marsha were attending their second Albuquerque Death Cafe. Marsha said, “The first one was enlightening. We enjoyed talking with like-minded people.” Howard commented, “Denial – it’s not a river in Egypt.”
Death Cafe co-facilitator Mindi Horwitch said, “It’s not just about passing along your stuff, itemizing your belongings. It’s important to share your values and who you are as a person.”
This led into a discussion of ethical wills, a document individuals can write that spells out what one has learned and would like to share with family and friends.
Death Cafe co-facilitator Gail Rubin said, “It’s also important to have a funeral, where all the relationships in our lives can come together to recognize a death. Our lives have impacts in circles beyond our knowing, and a memorial service offers the chance to tell your life story. The community needs to come together when someone dies and mark that life cycle event with ritual.”
The conversation flowed to popular culture references. The science fiction book Ender’s Game, coming out as a film this summer, was cited as a great story on speaking for the dead and honest descriptions of a person’s life, both the light and the dark. A Japanese film called After Life was mentioned as an interesting look at what happens to your soul after death. It’s set in a way station on the road to eternity.
There was a suggestion to hold a Death Cafe movie night and discussion – good idea! Gail Rubin has the license to show films in her talks and will pursue finding a place we can hold such a movie night event.
One woman shared a remarkable story of how she spiritually escorted her father from this physical world to the next world. As her father lay in a hospital hundreds of miles away undergoing heart surgery, she entered a meditative state where she spoke with him.
The operation was not going well, and he was torn about staying in his physical body or going on to whatever comes next. She was standing with him in a light space in the darkness, on a narrow bridge she called the Rainbow Bridge. She told him that if he stayed in his physical body, he would likely be an invalid without the quality of life he had before.
Suddenly, a host of people he had known in his lifetime burst across the bridge in a festive Mardi Gras celebration of music and color. He was surrounded, and then gone. At that moment, her meditation was shattered by the sound of the phone ringing. It was her mother calling to say her father had just died.
The idea of death as graduating on to something bigger and better came up. “I’m gone! What do I care?” said one woman. “I’m not going to hang around. After you graduate, you don’t go back to high school.” It’s the Bell Curve to maturity and we need to embrace the inevitable and face what’s next.
At the same time, we need to honor people’s spirit before someone dies. Write letters to those you love, say what they meant to you, and do it today. A funeral is far too late to say what we want to say to the person who has died.
This Death Cafe was co-facilitated by Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death with A Good Goodbye, and Mindi Horwitch, Licensed Independent Social Worker.
A big thank you to Dr. Diane Polasky and the Center for Holistic Health for allowing us to host this Death Cafe in the Community Room at the Center.
Join the Conversation!
Jon Underwood, founder of the Death Cafe in the U.K., and Lizzy Miles, who brought the first Death Cafe to the U.S. in 2012, will join Gail Rubin on her Internet radio show A Good Goodbye on Wednesday, June 26, 2013 to discuss the Death Cafe movement.
For more information about the Death Cafe movement, visit www.DeathCafe.com.