Monday, 22 July 2013

Write up from Death Cafe New York City July 17, 2013

By Nancy Gershman and Audrey Pellicano

July’s Death Café is beautifully captured in this quote from a member of our group: Who isn't interested in death, except those in denial?

There were 30 in all who braved the heat wave to talk about death, six of them returning members. Once again gender was half male and half female. The conversations were deemed “friendly,” “lively,” and “fun” but also “enlightening,” “cathartic” and “profound.” Three individuals shared a life-long interest in the mysteries of life and death (in one case, leaning more towards life than death).

Topics included euthanasia and the afterlife. A professor who joined us from Tufts University in Cambridge, MA revealed her passion for speculating about death “and what might happen next for those who have been there.”

Those in their 80’s expressed delight in being able to openly discuss the subject of death as “average individuals, rather than academics.” A woman who pent four years in Afghanistan found herself increasingly focused on her awareness around issues of life, death and the meaning of both. The “cop” from our last Death Café returned to share more about his advocacy work for older patients at a hospital in the city.

Among the 80-something set dignity in death was a ripe topic – beautifully captured in this story. Over the years, this particular gentleman had stockpiled a considerable cache of sleeping pills and pain medication in his refrigerator. Not to commit suicide per se, but simply to garner control so that when “it’s time,” he will “go” the way he wants to go: that is, when he’s good and ready. Naturally, there was a power outage, and his well-meaning cleaning lady emptied that refrigerator and threw its contents in the dumpster. Chuckling, he told his table of four that it will take him another 20 years before he’ll ever have enough pills to do away with himself! Which, of course, is funny when you’re hearing this from an older gentleman. In his words, he “just didn’t want to be a victim of The System.”

At another table, a member who recently put his dog to sleep weighed in on the right-to die movement. A political social worker in the office of a NY State Senator – a strong advocate for quality of life for older adults was concerned with how people die or wish to die and was searching for answers as to “why some are at peace with the concept of death and others in denial.”

Several members grappling with “mid-life struggle” were pleased to have an opportunity for “intelligent, compassionate and meaningful conversation” as they entered this phase of their life. Fear of death was what drew them to Death Café.

A documentary filmmaker - inspired by his own liver transplant 5 years ago - came to hear what life-changing effects others had experienced as they circled close to death, as he did. As far as we could see, only one attendee identified herself as a widow.

Several practitioners in the healthcare field or alternative medicine joined us. A 60-something who teaches Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Yoga Sutras said she enjoys reflecting on death, both physical and spiritual, and whether it dominates our life and society in ways that are pervasive. We had one retired physician. A 30-something psychologist specializing in cancer had existential questions on her mind. Does “death, in fact, enhance living?” A Jungian psychotherapist joined us who works with caregivers and people in transition.

Finally, on the younger front, we had a “child of aging parents,” who remarked in her profile that she’s “not religious, but perhaps should be.” One young person came especially to hear other people's perception of reality and search for meaning … or lack of meaning.

One thing agreed upon by both young and old alike: the wooden floorboards at our venue carry sound perhaps a little too well, making hearing each other a bit of a chore!

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