Thursday, 18 April 2013

Write ups of Death Café St. Joe with Megan Mooney, BSW and Ashley Gage, MSW.

 Death Café St. Joe- Write up on our first public events in St. Joseph, Missouri. 

By Megan J. Mooney

April 10th at Café Pony Espresso 

We had twenty people show up to our first public event. We started the evening with an ice breaker. I asked the group when you think of death, what is the first word that comes to mind to describe death? We went around the room and everyone shared their one word with us. Some of the responses were: separation, graduation, finality, dead, sad, loss, transitions, life, relief and finished. One woman mentioned that she thought context mattered as to what death means. After we finished our ice breaker everyone started in their small groups and immediately enjoyed talking to one another.

One table talked about everything on the agenda. They did get into a discussion about God and whether there is a heaven. One person stated that she believed in a higher force or power, but did not think there was a heaven waiting for us. She mentioned her children being very scientific in their afterlife beliefs. She also mentioned seeing "shadows" while a loved one was dying and made mention that she thought these were spirits or ghosts. Another highlight was the discussion of what we've experienced with funerals and whether we had thoughts about this. One participant offered her family's tradition, explaining funerals are more celebrations and people drink and have a good time. They discussed different options regarding burial, cremation, and donating one's body to science. We discussed with one table what they thought they wanted their legacy to be in life, and then asked what they wanted their legacy to be for their children, specifically. Once children were brought into the discussion, this prompted much more discussion.

Another table discussed feelings toward not only death itself, but also the moments before. Some people described feeling nervous and worried about the pain that they might be in. They also discussed whether or not death is painful. Some people at the table were curious about what happens after death; such as if we actually have a spirit and if so where does it go. An interesting thought was brought up about whether it is an important step in the grief process to plan a funeral. Everyone was open to the topics and ideas that were talked about.

Another table talked about their experiences with losing their loved ones on hospice and how they’re living their bucket list every day. One man stated that after his wife passed almost a year ago that he has been buying whatever he feels like because that is on his bucket list. Another woman at the table stated that she makes memorable moments with her children and family every day. That is her way of completing her bucket list. One lady at this table stated that her partner and her mapped out their bucket list a long time ago and go on a vacation to see the world wonders every year.

At the end of the meaning we asked the icebreaker question again “when you think of death, what is the first word that comes to mind to describe death?” We had four people that had changed their answers after they had their small group discussions. One lady changed her response to interesting. Another woman changed it to enlightening. When asking the group what was the thing that stood out to them the most in their small group’s one man stated “The lack of men here.” He stated that he thought this was “because women give birth and are more in tuned, so that it would make sense for them to care more about the dying process as well.”

We had a very eclectic group; all ranging from different ages and faiths/spiritual and belief systems. A lot of the participants exchanged contact information and are excited to come to our next event!

Some of the words to describe this event by the participants were: interesting, helpful, positive, educational, comfortable, endearing, real, enlightening, hopeful, amazing, welcoming, great, enjoyable, awesome, eventful, different ideas, open, sharing and fun. One person commented that "This was a very interesting experience; I enjoyed being able to talk about life and death in a non-judgmental way."


Missouri’s First Death Café! Held on March 25th 2013! 

This was a unique experience as it was held for hospice staff members, who are used to talking about death every day. The atmosphere was very relaxed and we had a lot of cake, cupcakes, tea and coffee! 

We started in small groups and then broke into a large group at the end. The groups discussed what death meant to them, which included themes related to "the unknown", "finality, “beginning”, "scary", “freedom” and "sad". Group participants discussed how life experiences and experiences as hospice workers have affected their perspective on death. One participant discussed her reaction to her mother's death and how that challenged all she knew about her faith and belief. One participant discussed how becoming a caregiver, and the reversal of roles of caring for her ailing parents, has shifted her perspective and further developed her empathy for her hospice caregivers. The topic of end-of-life choices and the U.S. social perspective on death and dying were also discussed. Group members commented on the perspective that hospice and palliative care approaches may be viewed as "giving up" and how social norms regarding "fighting" diseases and illness actually decrease quality of life at the end. Members also discussed the difference between sudden, tragic loss, using examples such as in the case of murder and the Sandy Hook massacre, with more expected loss in older adults. Participants explored how media influences our perspective on death and one member mentioned how the Sandy Hook massacre inspired social change with gun laws, but the media cycle has waned and so has the support for stricter gun policies. Group members also discussed what they wanted to do before they died, such as their bucket list. One participant stated that she wanted to keep helping people and leave a legacy. Others stated that they wanted to travel and spend time with their families. Another issue talked about was their contradictions with death and why they felt like they had them. At the end of the café, we talked about what stood out to us the most and participants talked about their “ahaha” moments and also about the contradictions that they identified in themselves. Others talked about their bucket lists and what they wanted to do before they died.

A huge thanks to Jon Underwood for picking this movement up and to Lizzy Miles, who brought this movement to the United States and has mentored me through this whole process! I appreciate you both!

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