There are few things more uncomfortable than thinking about or discussing death. While we all know it’s inevitable, we often choose to avoid uttering the words; let alone having an open exchange surrounding it. Late September, HeadSpace NC Founder and Facilitator, Angella Fraser and Hospice & Bereavement expert, Suzette Roach collaborated for the monthly installment of “Courageous Community Conversations.” Together, they approached the topic of death in a fresh new way that allowed attendees to share stories about their personal experiences, discuss legal protections and to leave with tools that would allow them to continue the discussions with their loved ones when they returned home.
The evening started as all H.E.A.D. Talks do; a ritual of guest announcing their arrival by beating, shaking, or twirling a hand instrument as they crossed the threshold of Fraser’s home. Everyone greeted one another with a welcoming smile, quickly becoming acquainted before breaking bread together.
Afterward, guest sat in a circle of trust to view Candy Chang’s Ted Talk, Before I die I want to….. In the video, the artist and TED Fellow discussed how the unexpected death of a close friend lead to an experiment in her New Orleans neighborhood that has since been adapted in neighborhoods across the globe. “So with help from old and new friends, I turned the side of this abandoned house into a giant chalkboard, and stenciled it with a fill-in-the-blank sentence: “Before I die, I want to …” So anyone walking by can pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their life, and share their personal aspirations in public space.” Following the viewing, everyone clapped in celebration of Chang’s ingenious idea before duplicating the experiment on sheets of paper placed on the wall throughout the room.
Following a brief discussion about everyone’s “Before I Die I Want To….” statements, the group viewed the second Ted Talk titled, Talk About Your Death While You’re Still Healthy” by Michelle Knox. In it, Knox encourages each of us to reflect on our core values surrounding death and to share them with our loved ones.
According to Knox, “Life would be a lot easier to live if we talked about death now. We need to discuss these issues when we are fit and healthy so we can take the emotion out of it — and then we can learn not just what is important, but why it’s important.”
Before long a somber feeling fell over the room as guests participated in a deeper discussion about death while sharing their own experiences:
- A family members decision not to have a funeral for a loved one and the residual feelings and lack of closure felt without it
- The struggle of having to put a loved one into a facility although it may be the best decision for all parties
- Wanting to play a game of cards with a loved one but they refused; only to find out later from old friends that they were a “card shark” when they were younger
- The burden of having to plan a parents funeral alone
- Planning your own funeral and writing out your obituary to relieve the family of that task
Following the discussion about past experiences, facilitators prompted everyone to think about how they would do things differently if given a chance. Not only for the loved ones who had already passed but for the loved ones they’d one day leave behind.
The group went on to discuss the benefits of hospice or palliative care facilities and the legal protections that a living will, power of attorney and traditional will provide. Co-facilitor, Suzette, also shared a few books with the group that discussed different perspectives on death that they could use as resources in the future.
Although the conversation may have been difficult at times, it was a healthy and necessary dialogue that pushed people outside of their comfort zone. After all, that’s the purpose of “Courageous Community Conversations”…to create a safe and inclusive environment for a diverse segment of the community to gather and stretch their way of thinking.
To participate in the next H.E.A.D. Talk, join our mailing list at www.headspacenc.com!