Monday 29 April 2013

Death Café Vancouver with Joan Trinh Pham & Ross Waddell

Death Café Vancouver
April 17, 2013

The first Death Café in Vancouver held on April 17, 2013 turned out to be a lovely and intimate affair.  The 14 people who attended, hosts included, found themselves in a warm, charming and rustic neighbourhood market-café thanks to the gracious donation of space by Le Marché St. George.

2 hours of conversation seemed to flow by in no time!  The spring sunshine of Vancouver gently faded through the windows as all the participants arrived and seated themselves around a small cluster of marble tables peppered with candles, a feather (a symbolic reminder to listen with openness and understanding) and sweet treats.  We started the evening by sharing the story of Death Cafés to date in order to locate this particular conversation in the tapestry of world-wide conversations.  We also shared the evening’s Death Café menu which was inspired by Jon and Susan’s very first Death Café gathering.  The menu was created to present items to nourish both body and conversation

The first part of the conversation focused on introducing oneself and answering the question “What brings you to Death Café?”  As we went around the circle, stories of how people arrived to this particular evening unfurled quite beautifully and profoundly, spanning reasons that were both immediate (someone in my life is dying right now) to evolving (careers and lives that have been touched by the deaths of loved ones early in life).  One participant shared that he was contemplating the question of “how to be fully alive when dying.”  We had a very rich group of conversationalists who had many experiences of working with, living with and/or caring for dying people.  Conversationalists arrived through mutual friends and colleagues, a facebook notice and a neighbourhood mailing list.

After a short break for tea, fruits, croissants and cake we resumed the conversation.  We presented this invitation to the conversationalists:   Please think of something you would like to ask those present that would illuminate a question you have about death, dying and their meaning for life.  The three questions that emerged to shape the conversation:  For people who work with death, how do you face clients and their families and deal with the emotions around a client dying? How do people prepare for death? What is the experience of being a close friend / family member to someone who is dying?

Finally, we closed the circle by asking everyone:  Please share how the conversation tonight might have influenced your thoughts on death, dying and their meaning for life. Here conversationalists shared thoughtful reflections which included a stirring recitation of the poem “The Way It Is” by William Stafford and reverberant acapella lines from “The Peace of the Wild Things,” a poem by Wendell Berry arranged for choral performance by Joan Szymko.

We would like to extend sincere gratitude to all the conversationalists for this evening of deep listening and sharing.  Your presence, attention and insight are invaluable!  Evaluations rated the event highly and many positive comments were left.  We will certainly incorporate your thoughtful comments and suggestions in preparing for the next Death Café Vancouver!

Submitted by hosts,
Joan Trinh Pham & Ross Waddell

About the Hosts:
Ross Waddell is a strategic planning consultant to public and not-for-profit organizations. He currently advises the hospice palliative care community on political and public advocacy. Ross also co-leads a local section of an international association that conducts research and education on and with people who have had near-death experiences ( He is inspired by the stories of experiencers who for the most part have no fear of death following their experience.

Joan Trinh Pham is an art ninja disguised as a palliative care nurse. She currently works with elders and their family in a residential care setting. Joan is passionate about creating and sharing artistic work related to death & dying. She is an aspiring professional doodler who hopes to inspire and contribute to resonant and honest conversations so that people can #dieawesome. Her work can be found at
The Way It Is
 There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
— William Stafford 

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ross - what a unique way to share the message! Please email me for off line discussion. Are you going to this year's conference in Washington DC! I've sent several letters to Military offices in Wash DC inviting them to join us! L.P. Truax ( we took the same van to the airport after last year's conference0


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