It's time to talk about death
We're all going die. What's more, we're all going to confront profound grief in the time we are alive. There's no other experience that we share with every single living organism on Earth, but the sad truth is that few of us will spend time talking about it, let alone planning for it.
I'd like to change that.
If you've been following me for a while, you know that death, dying and grief are topics I am passionate about. I want to talk about them. I want you to talk about them. I want to have a conversation to help all of us to do just that.
That's why I am hosting a 12-part virtual course on death and dying over the next 12 months.
Whether you're exploring your own mortality or you want to be more supportive of the people in your life who are dealing with terminal illness or death, these are conversations we all need to have. We have a tendency to put death aside, but I believe it should be the center of community life. We all have a right and an obligation to learn these skills, and when we do, we find that the job of grief and of death is to bring people together. Grief builds trust and creates and strengthens bonds. It is the soil in which nurturing communities grow, and that is just what this conversation aims to encourage.
People are alive, right up until they die.
Often, carers are so overwhelmed by fear and grief that we can forget that our dying people, even if they're unconscious or unresponsive, are still in the room, still living with us right up until the instant of their death. Not only do we need to talk about death and dying for our own sakes, but we need to be better at handling death and grief so we can support those who are dying and grieving.
Death and grief are coming for you. There's nothing that you can do to avoid it. It's going to happen if you love anything. Registering for these courses won't change that. What it can do is:
make it easier for you to talk to your loved ones about what they want.
feel a bit more at peace with your own plans.
help you explain death and dying to your children.
assist you in creating rituals for the end of the lives of people and animals and things you love.
help you put into words the things that you want and need when you're grieving.
help you create a plan for the comfort of the people you love when you die.
While I've been through a number of deaths and have spent the last few years taking courses, reading extensively, and training as a death doula, I am not uniquely qualified for this work. This is work we all have to do, sooner or later, and rather than fearing it and dreading it, we can and should prepare ourselves for it. Being with people at the end of their lives is a painful privilege, but a privilege nevertheless. It is a skill that you can cultivate. You can become good at it.
And when you're good at death, you're a gift to dying people
With these courses, I am attempting to sow the seeds of a good and caring society that acknowledges loss and grief. I want it to be very accessible to everyone, which is why I am making these sessions both virtual and affordable. You can sign up for individual courses ($25 each), or all twelve (no longer available).
SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY
Already convinced and ready to go? You can sign up for individual classes below. Please note that you also get access to the recordings for 48 hours
1. How we die
A brief history of dying in the West, focusing on the 20th and 21st century.
Saturday, October 29, 7pm PT
COVID-19 has especially impacted the way we expect to die and how we connect with dying people. It has put another barrier between us and death, as we have become more accustomed to people dying in isolation, to postponing funerals and other rituals, to saying our goodbyes on zoom. Many of us have also lost more than one person in a short span of time. I want us to consider how we used to commonly die - mostly at home, with vigil and rituals that we now increasingly parcel out to institutions, separating ourselves further from the realities of death, and to think about whether we can reclaim some of the intimacy of death.
This class is over.
2. How we grieve
Funerals, celebrations of life, private vs public displays of grief, and how this has changed over the past 100 years.
Saturday, November 26, 7pm PT
Death used to be a very intimate event, surrounded by rituals and family connections. It included acts of physical connection with dead bodies, washing and shrouding our loved ones, often holding funerals and viewings in our own homes. We have moved to embalming and fewer viewings, and have even recently become accustomed to forgoing the funeral at all, or having it via Zoom. We have become increasingly grief avoidant, with some celebrations of life eschewing mentions of death or grief at all. Public mourning is largely reserved for celebrities, and our work obsessed culture makes little space for loss. But we have to grieve. It is an unavoidable, necessary part of life. If you love, you will grieve, and you will help others to grieve.
This class is over.
3. What Death Looks Like
What happens as the body shuts down? What is the process of "natural" death?
Saturday, December 31, 3pm PT (please note this is an earlier time than other courses)
There is some predictability in the process of dying and how the body reacts in the process. There is an order in which the senses and organs shut down. We will discuss all this as well as what happens to the body in the hours after death. We'll dispell some myths, discuss some common fears, and talk about the experiences common to people at the end of their lives. This will help prepare you for death, for what is scary and normal, so you can be better prepared to support dying loved ones.
Vigil is the time of waiting - we will discuss how we care for ourselves and the dying.
Monday, February 6, 7pm PT
Just as everyone’s birth is different, everyone’s death is different. Death can be sudden and shocking, it can be slow. It can be painful or peaceful; it can be both. Carers are sometimes surprised that such a dramatic, important event can be, at times, very tedious. Dying people are sometimes surprised by this as well; the desire to hurry things along often arises from one or both sides of the deathbed. Vigil is the time of waiting, and in many ways it is the most demanding and difficult time. This class will discuss that in between time, the things we can do to care for ourselves and for our dying people, the difficult honour of holding space.
This class is over.
5. Care of the Body
Or "Why You Must Not Tell Your Loved Ones to Throw Your Body Away With The Trash"
POSTPONED TO THURSDAY, MARCH 2, 7 pm PT
When we honour the bodies that have carried us through our lives and plan ahead for our bodies at the time of our death, we give our loved ones the gift of not having to wonder what we would have wanted. We can arrange to have our bodies treated in ways that align with our values, that help our loved ones feel confident that they are respecting our wishes, and that create a framework for a continuing bond between the living and the dead. We’ll discuss rituals around body the bodies of the newly dead, traditional embalming and burial, body farms, new trends in body disposition, donating your body to science, organ donation, cremation and green burial.
This class is over.
6. Practical considerations
There are things that have to be done when someone is dying, and plans to be made for your end of life.
Saturday, March 25, 7pm PT
Most of us will find ourselves hospitalized and unable to communicate at some point in our lives, and it is imperative that we make our wishes known to our carers. In this class we will discuss end of life plans, legal considerations like wills and power of attorney, and MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying). We will fill out a sample end of life plan, and we’ll discuss legacy projects such as letters to our loved ones, how to talk about our wishes with family members, and other steps we can take now to ensure that our values and priorities are clear in advance.
This class is over.
7. Traumatic Bereavement/Complicated Grief
When trauma hijacks grief, there are resources and strategies available.
Saturday, April 29, 7pm PT
This class may be triggering, so please be forewarned. When death is sudden or violent or when someone from whom we are alienated dies, trauma tends to hijack bereavement. We may be unable to connect with our grief or process our loss. In this class we will talk about complicated grief, Post Traumatic Stress Response and its triggers, common physical and psychological responses, and we will discuss some resources and strategies for caring for ourselves in the aftermath of a traumatic loss. This class will also contain a discussion of the opioid epidemic and its effect on vulnerable people and communities.
This class is over.
8. Abortion, Miscarriage, Still Birth and the Death of Children
In addition to sharing resources for parents and families, we will talk about how to approach the work of community care.
THIS CLASS HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED TO Tuesday, June 20, 7pm PT
This class will be divided into three distinct parts. In situations where pregnant people opt to terminate a pregnancy, grief may or may not be a consideration. But feelings of regret, self opprobrium, guilt, etc. are common experiences and can be amplified by societal attitudes to abortion. Similarly, people who experience miscarriage often seek fault in themselves. Often we are told not to share the news of a pregnancy until we are 16 weeks along, and this can lead to a very real sense of isolation when the pregnancy ends. We’ll discuss stigma, the effects of silence and isolation, and resources for getting the support we need and deserve in times of unique loss.
When children die, we experience the event as existing outside of the natural order. The death of children is such a critical loss that very often families are unable to express their needs for fear of overwhelming their communities, and communities are unsure of how to support someone who is experiencing such pain. In addition to sharing resources for parents and families, we will talk about how to approach the work of community care.
9. Climate Grief
We will talk about acts of witness, about protest, about community and about the work of hope.
THIS CLASS HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED TO Tuesday, June 27, 7pm PT
We are living in a time of extraordinary and ongoing loss. We’re in the middle of an extinction event, we are witnessing the effects of climate chaos on our homes, we are experiencing tremendous instability in our own lives and as a species. The anxiety and the grief that surrounds the climate catastrophe is complicated because there is no definitive end. We are simultaneously grieving things that have happened, things that will happen, and things that might happen. We need to see our own grief mirrored back to us, but in climate grief we can’t even be sure that other people will acknowledge that the thing we are grieving exists, so we can start to feel crazy or betrayed, we can start to lose trust. There is a way to connect with the hope that lives inside grief, and that is through ritual. We will talk about acts of witness, about protest, about community and about the work of hope. This is my favourite subject, the one closest to my heart.
10. Pet Death
The grief we experience when pets die can be every bit as intense as that of any other loss.
Saturday, July 29, 7pm PT
Pets help us form social connections, healthy habits, they get us outside, they connect us to the non-human world. Particularly during COVID, many of us have come to rely on our pets to meet our need for love, for physical touch, for non-judgemental friendship (unless you’re a cat person). In a time when all of our relationships seem tenuous, pets are consistent. Their lives, however, are predictably brief, and the grief we experience when they die can be every bit as intense as that of any other loss. In the aftermath of the death of a beloved pet, we may feel that others are judging our sadness, that we’re being silly or sentimental. In this class we’ll talk about the importance of the bond between domestic animals and ourselves and how the way we connect with our pets relates to the way we care for the world at large. We’ll talk about pet deaths in history and generally validate and celebrate the love we feel for the animals in our lives.
We'll discuss the rituals across cultures that both nurture the living and honour the dead.
Saturday, August 26, 7pm PT
This class will be all about ritual and care. We will talk about the ways that various cultures use food and art and ritual to connect with one another and with the dead. From death cake eaters to funeral potatoes, this class will be a cross cultural buffet of nourishing rituals. We will also talk about mourning jewellery and ornaments, contemporary art about death and grief, and the ways that we form stronger bonds of love and trust by sharing in rituals that nurture our living bodies and honour our dead.
12 Open Session
An opportunity to fully digest the information presented and answer lingering questions.
Saturday, September 30, 7pm PT
An opportunity for participants to share experiences, resources, and questions. This session will be a chance to practice holding space for one another.
I am so excited for this series. I hope you join me to talk about Death and Dying. We can make both life and death so much better if we do.
Need to contact me about this series?
Please use this email: IWantToTalkAboutDeath@gmail.com
Either I or my trusty sidekick Kristi will get back to you. And please be kind - this took a lot of work and there may be mistakes. But it is a labour of love for both of us.
p.s. We are already aware that buying individual tickets is a pain and you can't just add all of them to a cart WHICH WOULD MAKE THE MOST SENSE but it is late and we are tired and we did our best.