Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Write up of July 7, 2013 San Luis Obispo Death Café

By John Allen

General Description:

Hospice of SLO County hosted the first Death Café in San Luis Obispo on Sunday afternoon, July 7, 2013. 17 people met in the group room of the 100 year old house that serves as offices to this volunteer hospice organization. Robert Sachs, hospice social worker and spiritual counselor, served as facilitator.

The room was abuzz with conversation before the Death Café began, requiring the hospice staff member to gently coax everyone into quiet so that the session could begin. (This is always a GOOD sign!)

The group began with a basic instruction regarding confidentiality, the encouragement to participate and to partake of the homemade treats, tea, coffee and lemonade provided. There was an introduction to Robert’s role in his work and his experience in losing a child to SIDS almost 30 years ago, which focused his attention on the process of healing after experiencing death in the family.

There were brief introductions around the room, some participants had cared for a loved one at the end of life, some were concerned about their parents or their children, some were here because of basic curiosity.

Participants included a nurse, a firefighter-turned-administrator, a Palliative Care MD, a LCSW student in her 60s, a psych-tech nursing graduate, a mother of 3 who was mauled by a 160 lb. dog 9 years ago and has turned to the work of helping others, a massage therapist, a funeral planner, and many others.

Small groups worked on two exercises: Write down 5 words that come to mind when you:

1. Hear the word Death

2. Hear the word Dying

The results were discussed back in the larger group.

A sample of the words for Death: Surprise, peace, mystery, sacred, welcome, evolution, sadness, forgiveness, regret and inevitable.

For the word Dying: Struggle, fear, acceptance, chaos, sacred, release, support and regret.
During the final 30 minutes of the large group discussion these comments were made:

“The idea of death can put life into perspective.”

“I’ve become more selective about the things I will put up with or “suffer”, yet I am also more forgiving.”

“The present is all you have.”

“Because death is behind closed doors, there are a lot of practical things in our life that are really sloppy – that we don’t attend to.”

“Talking about forgiveness, we live so much better in the present when we forgive. Forgiveness is a part of living.”

When a participant said they wish we had more time, the facilitator said:

“Other types of cafes go on into the night. The Death Café just ends.”

Evaluations: 16 submitted

Attendees: 1 facilitator, 14 participants, 2 volunteers

1. Overall, how would you rate this event? 5 = Excellent 1 = Poor

10 Rated at 5; 4 Rated at 4; 2 Rated at 3

· Enjoyed the format. Would like it to be longer.

· Wonderful event for first timers! So glad we are able to do this – Thank you!

· Thank you for the gift of time and space

· Great, comfortable setting, excellent facilitator, exciting to be at the first one.

· Interesting!

· Worth attending

· Even being able to talk to peole about going to this event opens discussion

· Great sharing and leadership

· Utter success. Such interesting people.

· Really loved the small group setting with direction from facilitators

· Would be good to have a mechanism to facilitate ?’leader’? sharing

2. Would you say that attending this event affected your feelings about death and/or life? If yes, please attempt to say how:

· Yes and no. My heart and mind are very open, however it was great to hear other’s perspectives

· The varied experiences shared today opened my mind and compassion to life and its fragileness.

· Reassured me.

· Yes, to think further about preparing for it by using the time left fruitfully.

· Yes, it is helping me to prepare for this now for myself and for when my parents start their journey.

· No – but I am excited to see others approach the situation.

· Good reminder to keep death as your counselor.

· No, I have pondered death my entire life. It is nice to share with others.

· Sharing feelings on death is a blessing. It ought to be ordinary, yet is not. So grateful.

· Don’t know that it affected my feelings quite yet but provided an enjoyable opportunity to meet and hear from other thoughtful people about a challenging subject.

· Yes, reinforced importance of truly living.

· No, I realize I don’t have many issues with it.

· Feels good to share this conversation.

· Yes, I feel even more comfortable and right, talking about death and dying.

3. How comfortable did you feel during the Death Café?

5 = Excellent . . . 1 = Poor.

Is there anything you can think of that would have made you feel more comfortable?

· 5 - No

· 5 – Encouraging others to speak by giving the opportunity to “quieter individuals” some dominate.

· 5 – the approach was very relaxing and personal

· 5 – nothing needed

· 5 – I wasn’t expecting so many personal stories but I guess those pepoel are still working through their issues.

· 4 – A couple of people monopolized the floor and some said nothing except during introductions.

· 5 – It was great

· 5

· 5 – No

· 5 – very comfortable

· 3 or 4 - I like sitting at tables when there’s food involved but the room and setting were lovely and cozy.

· 5

· 4

· 5

· 5

· 4 – more activity in small group

4. How well did the structure of the discussion at the Death Café work?

Suggestions for improvement:

· Cannot think of any at this time

· Some came to me at break and said that they wanted to say something but they felt shy or others would talk over them.

· I felt that as a group develops, topics of a specified experience could be reflected on for the coming gathering.

· Three or so people didn’t speak in the group setting – not a problem.

· Have facilitator bring out quiet ones; tighten up on the small group timeline.

· When people wander in their thought process, reel them in.

· No suggestions.

· Great

· Great. Just right.

· Wasn’t a huge fan of the 5 words exercise, other than that, just great.

· Stay with small groups longer to go deeper and then do report backs to share.

· Less storytelling time

· Not sure

· Flowed

· Smaller group, more time

5. Overall how would you rate the facilitation?

Suggestions for improvement:

· Very good

· Can we let participants know in the beginning if the café that this is their time and their experience and to please be comfortable speaking up.

· Excellent and comfortable

· Ask if there is anyone who hasn’t spoken who has something to share, or a question/comment.

· Excellent

· Good. More time than 2 hours would be better.

· Perfect.

· Excellent

· Great…just right.

· Excellent

· Excellent

· Liked the comment that not finishing an exercise demonstrates how “death” is.

· 5

· Okay. Be sure to mention “no product, no promotion, no course of action.”

6. How would you rate the food and drink? 5 = Excellent … 1 = Poor.

· Less sugary treats

· 5

· Yummy, 5+

· Being a vegan, I could not have other than beverages.

· 5

· Too much chocolate (LOL)

· 5! 5!

· 5 – Would like some non-sweet or salty treats, or fresh fruit would be nice, sugar buzzed.

· 5 – Homemade and healthy

· 5

· 5 +

· 4

· 5

7. Please choose three words that best describe your experience of Death Café:

· Comfortable, joyful, interesting

· Light/pleasant, comfort, encouraging

· New awareness, new acceptance, shared interest of understanding death

· Time flew by, excellent facilitator-good sense of humor, positive hopes for more cafes.

· Thought provoking, Enjoyable, Worthwhile

· Community, Openness, Sharing

· Interesting, Informative, Nice

· Grateful, Heartbreaking, Grounded

· Warm, Educational, Comfortable

· Easy, Friendly, Scratching the surface

· Interesting, Enlightening

· Inclusive, Welcoming, Friendly

· Sweet, Meaningful, Heartfelt

· Relaxing, Enjoyable, Uplifting

8. If someone told you they were thinking of attending a Death Café, what would you say to them?

· Absolutely go and I’ll go too!

· Do it! Sign up right away – they fill up fast!

· Come join me. This is a great opportunity to experience and share that which is not spoken of.

· I’d ask first – what do they know or expect.

· Go, by all means.

· Have fun!

· Yes, Yes & More Yes.

· Go, listen, see if you learn, Don’t judge!

· Talking about death will make you feel happy.

· Go for it! Have fun.

· You might like it.

· They will be surprised how comfortable it is

· Do It.

· Go, you will enjoy it and the stigma of talking about death is non-existent.

9. Do you have any other comments or things you think we should hear?

· This is not a networking opportunity. Explain confidentiality using an example.

· The openness and generous attention from each individual is very considerate and helpful to those who need to express something they have had locked in.

· Thank you for offering this experience for growth.

· Thank you for your time.

· Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! This is perfect for our town!

· Thank You + +

· Thanks for asking!

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