Talking about death won’t kill you

Death. It’s a completely natural phenomenon, an end that us as living beings will all come to one day. Yet, we pretend as if it will never happen. And you know what? It is a damn scary thought. But it is also a reality and one that has its consequences if it not truly thought about.

Most people brush off talk about dying, they have an, ‘I’m not going to die’ type of mentality, or just straight out avoid the topic in general. It is estimated that only one person in every 100 has some sort of plan for if they were to die. However, Brantford is starting this conversation, and it is not all dark and scary.

Seats booked up quickly at the Stedman Community Hospice on Tuesday, June 16th for an event called “Die-alogues.” The gathering brought members of the community together in hopes of giving a sense of comfort in discussions about death and dying.

“Die-alogues” organizers Maureen Russell and Melissa Chadwick pose with bucket table toppers beside the list of team names. (Brittany Bennett/ The Sputnik)

It began with an uplifting video titled “What do you want to do before you die?” Four young men calling themselves The Buried Alive completed their bucket lists and helped others along the way figure out what they want to do before they die.

Large silver buckets topped each of the eight tables in the room of the Stedman Community Hospice that day, with foam flowers holding photos and inspirational quotations. Something as simple as a bucket list is one of the many positives to come from thinking about dying. Everyone has this imaginary bucket list in their mind, I want to do this one day, or I am going to do that someday. But have you ever taken the time to sit down and write it all out? Or figure out ways you can actually accomplish this list? We began that opportunity that Tuesday, an opportunity many take for granted or put off to another time that never actually comes.

Lois Scott was quite about the event, and eager to attend ever since a poster was dropped off at her place of work in Beckett-Glaves Family Funeral Centre. Scott loves her work there as an after care councillor, as well as the other co-owned funeral home, Hill and Robinson. Both homes are in Brantford.

“They brought out the reality of death and dying by a way of humour, in a way where it was also combined with serious issues. Which I think is good. I found it a very comfortable, very welcoming atmosphere,” says Scott.

Death is normal conversation for Scott, as she has been working in funeral homes for 16 years. But she had never heard of a conversation about death and dying in the Brantford community before.

Scott admits that most people do not prepare for their funerals ahead of time, and this leaves some seriously unanswered questions for their loved ones. Do they want a celebration of life or a wake? If they are having a funeral ceremony, do they want an open or closed casket? Cremation or burial? Is there a specific song they may have wanted to be played? These and more complicated issues arise if a will is not prepared.

But we do not need to think about death and dying just for the aftermath, but also to improve our current living.

“Die-alogues” organizer, Maureen Russell, says she has never had so much appreciation for her life until she began thinking of death and dying. Russell’s work as a psycho-social spiritual bereavement clinician at Stedman Community Hospice has made her aware of some serious bereavement issues that individuals deal with. Russell explains that death is typically seen as the elephant in the room, but it does not have to be that way.

“Die-alogues” was a great way to bring this conversation to light. The serious issues were discussed, such as feelings about death, last meals and donations in your memory. But this also lead into inspiring conversations about leaving a legacy, important role models and finding out which people mean the most to you. For example, how many of us have ever thought about who we would like to spend our last meal with?

Before the evening took a serious turn, laughter filled the room as everyone began by picking team names for each table. All eight tables came up with a corky name such as the Die Hards, Moving On Up, and the Ghost Riders. The fun really kicked in once the euphemism challenge began: trying to come up with an original death related euphemism that has not been said before. After much debate and cackle, the game concluded with table two’s “return to sender” and table seven’s “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” co-winning. Among the other notable entries were “the bird of paradise has shit all over him” and “#done.”

“I found with the way they brought the light side to it, that’s the way to talk about [death and dying,]” says Scott. Most employees at the funeral homes Scott works at also bring their senses of humour to the table, and she has had a lot of positive feedback from the comfort this attitude brings.

“Die-alogues” first began in May of last year at Hospice North West in Thunder Bay. Once Russell and clinical nurse specialist, Melissa Chadwick, both underwent presentations on the uplifting way of talking about death and dying, they knew they had to bring it to Stedman Community Hospice.

“You know what? Talking about death won’t kill you,” Russell chuckles. Punny, but true. This is the main line Russell says to her children when trying to bring up the death conversation. Russell admits that it is typically an older crowd that wants to talk about death and dying, but she was thrilled to see a few younger faces in the crowd. Russell is hoping to see more of a younger crowd at future events. “It’s you guys that are going to make the change, certainly not I or Melissa. It’s you folks that are going to do it,” she explained to me.

Russell and Chadwick have seen firsthand the after effects of not having the proper conversations about death. “We avoid this, we deny that death is going to happen and then we don’t do some of the important things that we need to do around that,” says Chadwick. Relating this to a personal experience, Chadwick had to scramble to figure out her father’s life review when he was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer when she was just 19. This turned into a stressful conversation about dying when her father was very near death, instead of being able to have a peaceful set of mind in at least one area during this difficult time.

Chadwick admits that these conversations are going to be hard, but timing is everything and it really does make the difference. Having these conversations not only brings a peace of mind for yourself in the moment, but for your loved ones in the future.

“Death is a part of life, we have to talk about it,” says Chadwick. And “Die-alogues” is proving this does not have to be morbid conversation. Russell and Chadwick look forward to continuing this discussion of death and dying in the fall. They have many new and exciting ideas to encourage this serious, necessary conversation in a fun, light-hearted way.

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