While the public work of the Death Talk Project is still on hiatus, the next generation of PDX Death Café volunteer leaders and facilitators is continuing to respond to community requests with a busy schedule of late winter and early spring Cafés. Their work caught the notice of two local publications recently:
As we come to the shortest day of the year, I’m preparing to go dark myself. Three years after founding the Death Talk Project and nearly six years since bringing Death Café to Portland, I’m stepping back from the conversation.
For the first quarter of 2019, I’m pressing the pause button. I’ll continue to serve individuals, families, and communities as a Life-Cycle Celebrant and Home Funeral Guide. And I’ll be diving more deeply into a project focused on death care practices.
But mostly I’ll be quieter, attuning my ear and seeking to sharpen my vision. A sacred pause, some call it.
I’m sorely tempted to say more. Habit demands that I recount the year, that I take stock of all I’ve done, harvest the best of my observations and lamentations and celebrations to serve up here for you as one final feast.
What began for me as an extension of the social justice work I’ve done all my life, seeing myself as a rites of passageactivist, has turned me from the the rights we have in relation to death rites and other rites of passage, to the question of responsibilities.
In Fate and Destiny, mythologist Michael Meade writes about “the two adventures of life”:
We enter the marketplace of life and become part of the great exchange and the endless deals. We learn to buy and sell and to speak as best we can the language of the day. We become wet with life and accept the rules of the game to one degree or another. We buy into a way of life and live it up or fall down trying to do so….
On the first adventure there are no free lunches and all the deals have strings attached. For this is the ‘real world’ where anything can be measured and everything has a price, where life is cheap and truth is rare and hard to find.
This is as good a description as any of my five-year immersion into the contemporary clamor around how we come to death and grief in our times. It’s brought me to the threshold of Michael Meade’s second adventure:
…with its mysterious dreams and wild projects [the second adventure] sings at the edges of all the deals being made and continues to hum when the wheels threaten to fall off the wagon that keeps the market of life in motion…. The second arc of life becomes the road of release through which people step away from strict adherence to the collective rules and social conventions…. On the second adventure we open the doors and windows of the body as well as the soul in order to let eternity back into the world.
And thus I take a step back from the distractions of the marketplace of meaning-making, that I might better hear the answer to the question of to whom and what I am response-able. To put my hands to the humble, daily work that “lets eternity back into the world.”
Citing Anita Hannig, a Brandeis University anthropology professor whose study of contemporary death practices has brought her to Oregon and into my home for deep conversation, the article notes, “As the United States becomes increasingly secular, religion’s role in making meaning out of death has shrunk. According to Hannig’s research, memorial services are becoming less and less common, and a collective honoring of the dead — something like All Souls’ Day — is practically nonexistent.”
And so on this All Souls’ Day, I tip my hat to the artists and culture makers, the multitudes of mourners who take to the parks and streets of Tucson for a weekend at this time every year, to Remember Together in the now 150,000 person All Souls Procession. Read More
Honoring the Grief of Our Lives & These Times: Cultivating the Skill of Heartbrokenness
As it happened, the day before Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave her searing testimony in Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearing, I gave a presentation of my own. The setting was entirely different, of course – a community arts center on the North Oregon coast. And my audience was universally open-hearted and friendly.
But the topic I presented on was unexpectedly relevant to the tsunami of trauma that met Dr. Ford’s all-too-familiar story and Judge Kavanaugh’s sadly predictable response the next day.
“Honoring the Grief of Our Lives & These Times: Cultivating the Skill of Heartbrokenness” was our focus that Wednesday afternoon.
We honored what brought us to and through the “Five Gates of Grief” enumerated by Francis Weller in The Wild Edge of Sorrow (I’ve written previously about them here). The 1st Gate of Grief: the recognition that everything we love will die. The 2nd Gate: the places that have not known love – those places shut down by abuse and shame. The 3rd Gate: the sorrows of the world. The 4th Gate: what we expected and did not receive – the grief of not being born into a village. And the 5th Gate: ancestral grief.
All of these gates were blown wide open by the national attention on the event described by Dr. Ford as “indelible in the hippocampus” – the unforgettable experience of being assaulted as a teenager. Read More
We gathered around a table strewn with flower petals, each of us holding a sprig of cedar. Cedar, known by some in this part of the country as the First Ancestor. The girls, getting ready to start 6th grade in a newly-opened middle school, were asked to name a teacher or an ancestor as they laid down their sprig.
Invited to participate, I named my maternal grandmother, Elena Jenny Roland – Helen, once she became an American, Nonna to me.
She grew up in the Italian Piedmont, a region surrounded on three sides by the Alps. Our people were Waldensians, a tiny clan of Pre-Reformation Protestants whose cultural survival depended on the sanctuary of high places after being declared heretics by the Roman Catholic Church. The Waldensians arrived in Torre Pellice, what would become my grandparent’s hometown, in the early 13th century. Read More