Let’s talk about death

The most important and costly conversation American isn’t having

The author states that she has maintained a manual therapy practice in Chico for 15 years, and brings her service as a hospice volunteer and training in soul midwifery to her work as a doula to the dying. She is a founding member of the Alliance for Support and Education in Dying and Death.

In sharing his experience over the past two years of his wife Janice’s end of life and his grieving since her death, CN&R columnist Anthony Peyton Porter has been opening a door to the closet in which Americans collectively keep awareness of our mortality.

We hide, hoping to deny, our vulnerability to injury, disease, disability, death. In this denial, we lose something essential of the truth of our natures, of how precious our time alive can be; or so we are told by those no longer in denial—dying people, and the family members, care providers and hospice workers who serve them.

Though the vast majority of Americans express the wish to die at home, only about 25 percent die outside a hospital or nursing facility. A recent Harvard University study found that 62 percent of medical expenses were for intensive measures at the end of life. There are so many options, procedures, protocols and choices for life prolongation that most people find making informed choices or formulating clear advance directives insurmountably daunting.

The examination of end-of-life issues and options has been called the most important and costly conversation America isn’t having. We are unused to using, or even hearing, straight-forward language mentioning dying and death. “Dead” is treated as a four-letter word.

However, there are signs of change. Predicated on the premise that “death deserves discourse,” the “Death Café” movement (www.deathcafe.org) is bringing people together to “talk about death, drink tea/coffee, and eat cake.”

Locally, Death Café is scheduled every first Thursday at a downtown venue. Another initiative recognizing that death and dying have a place in our lives as natural and fundamental as nourishment—“Talk About Death Over Dinner” (www.deathoverdinner.org)—was launched this August. Locally, 19 people came together over pizza for stimulating and moving conversation.

In the movement to reclaim dying as a human event, a variety of non-medical practices, both formal and informal, have arisen to augment hospice care. Locally, the Alliance for Support and Education in Dying and Death (alliancesedd@gmail.com) is developing as a network of such resources.

The annual fall event Befriending Death will be held this November at the Chico Women’s Club. The community is invited to celebrate “Days of the Dead” with traditional memorial altar-making, festive food, death rehearsals, eulogy writing, legacy book creation, and music, as well as Death Café all afternoon.