An Uncomfortable Conversation?

July 24, 2015 1:41 pm

Taking Comfort in the Uncomfortable

“I don’t like thinking or talking about death, whether it’s thinking about my own, or the impending death of a loved one. I don’t know anyone who would want to think about it. It’s uncomfortable.”

Sound familiar? Feel familiar? Most likely it does. It also helps explain why the vast majority of Americans express particular end-of-life wishes, but less than 1/3 have completed an advance directive of any kind. However, there are movements across the nation encouraging us all to talk about the reality that no one escapes, but everyone wants to – death.

“I have found that most people are reluctant to get started, but once they do, they are fully engaged,” explained Sandra Phillips, Bereavement Coordinator at Good Sam Hospice. “It’s as if they breathe a sigh of relief once they’ve taken the first step.”

Movements such as Aging with Dignity, The Conversation Project, Death over Dinner, Death Cafes and others have gained momentum recently with social media contributing to the energy behind having these conversations.

For example, author and blogger Karen Wyatt, MD compiled a list of movies that may help jumpstart these conversations. She includes popular films like “The Bucket List,” “Beaches,” “Marvin’s Room,” “Life as a House,” and several others. With so many diverse individuals invested and contributing, these end-of-life conversations may be difficult to have, but they are not lacking resources.

Good Sam is no exception and has immersed itself into this dialogue through a variety of outreach programs, educational initiatives and the ever-popular coffee-house gatherings. Through a program called “Coffee and Conversation,” Roanoke-area residents gather monthly at Land of a Thousand Hills or Sweet Donkey Coffee House to take on this topic from a personal perspective by dealing with the complexities of grief. Another program, “Dialogue and Dessert,” provides evening gatherings for folks, again at Sweet Donkey Coffee House.

Recently, the Funeral Consumer Alliance hosted a “Death Café” at Panera Bread in Blacksburg with over 20 people participating in an engaging discussion about the challenges they personally encountered when navigating end-of-life with loved ones.

“I had a great opportunity to explain what an end-of-life doula is to people who I feel like will help share that information with others who may have a need,” explained Lindy Waterbeck, Trained Doula and Good Sam Community Liaision. “They were genuinely interested in what that was about and how to get involved.” An end-of-life doula is a trained volunteer who provides companionship and comfort for those who are actively dying, as well as support for their families and loved ones. It is similar to a birth doula, helping with transition at the end of life rather than at the beginning of life.

There are more than 1,500 Death Café gatherings in more than 26 countries, a tangible example of the kind of discussion groups that are gaining popularity today. Their hallmark is that they almost always are group-directed, candid, ease fear, challenge and motivate.

For more information on “Coffee & Conversation,” “Dialogue & Dessert,” or any other end-of-life discussion initiative, give us a call. Let us help you start the conversation.

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