2017: A Year in the Life
Where my work as a Life-Cycle Celebrant and community conversation leader took me
2017 was the
- 3rd year in a row that saw me attend the death of a member of my inner circle
- 5th year of co-leading PDX Death Café
- 3rd year of facilitating Talking About Dying conversations around the state with Oregon Humanities
- 4th year of traveling to Stephen Jenkinson’s Orphan Wisdom School in eastern Canada
- 3rd (and final) year of Death Talk Goes to the Movies, a monthly film & discussion night at the Clinton St Theater
- 2nd time I had the opportunity to take an intentional ancestral pilgrimage (this time to Ireland, England & Scotland)
- 1st year I’m sporting the certification in Thanatology: Death, Dying & Bereavement, conferred by the Association for Death Education & Counseling (ADEC)
- 2nd year of the Death Talk Project, offering regular Let’s Talk provocations and sending monthly newsletters to ~2,500 subscribers
- 1st year I received community support through Patreon
Ceremonies of Bereavement & Remembrance
Among the bereavement and remembrance events I created with families and communities in 2017 were ceremonies for
- two newborn babes, one who died just before being birthed; one, just after
- two women about my age, mourned by their female partners (could have been me)
- two younger adults
- several younger retirees, who thought they’d have more time
- a number of older folks, two of whom had died unexpectedly, without a terminal diagnosis
- the mostly immigrant staff of a social service agency
- a community tree planting memorializing a longtime volunteer
- and Packy the 55 year-old elephant, beloved by generations of Oregonians, a ceremony viewed around the world.
PDX Death Café
In the five years since organizing Oregon’s first Death Café, I’ve produced or supported a total of 52 Death Cafés, and was personally present for 36 of these. In 2017, the PDX Death Café Leadership Team organized nine Cafés – two at a meditation sangha, two at a cohousing community, two at libraries (one in Vancouver, WA), one at a church, one at a community meeting space, and the largest (80 people) at Portland’s (LGTBT)Q Center.
This year I repeated several workshops and community rituals along with developing and offering new content. For the second year, I partnered with White Eagle Memorial Preserve and River View Cemetery to produce an Earth Day Natural Death Care Symposium in Portland and in Hood River. This year we added a conversation game called “Hello” (formerly “My Gift of Grace”). I offered similar content as a guest speaker for The Art of Death & Dying Series in Manzanita, Oregon.
As in prior years, I led two community ceremonies of remembrance: one at a meditation sangha, the other at River View Cemetery. I also offered a workshop on Rituals for Transition in three settings: for the Unitarian Church’s Seminary for a Day program, for Portland Community College’s Life by Design program, and for the Deschutes County Library in Bend. I returned to Portland Nursery to lead a seasonal remembrance ritual for entering the winter holidays.
In work newly piloted in 2017, I began the year with an earth altar building event led by a nationally-known artist on the grounds of River View Cemetery. I originated and led a kick-off event for the 7th Annual Afterlife Conference: a panel and community discussion on the “Language of Loss” exploring the implications of the language we use in relation to death and grief.
The most substantial piece of new educational content I developed was a workshop created for a cohousing community called When I Die: Dying in Community. An outgrowth of death care planning I’d done with an 80-year-old resident of the community, his example served as a case study for his community.
The credits reel for this year at the Death Talk Project include:
- Jodie Buller and the team at White Eagle Memorial Preserve/ Sacred Earth Foundation who serve as fiscal sponsor (and do such good work for the Earth)
- A generous anonymous donor and my monthly Patreon supporters
- Kate Brassington and Lori Stevens, who serve as the PDX Death Café Leadership Team, and the dozens of volunteer facilitators they coordinate
- Lani Jo Leigh of the Clinton Street Theater for hosting three years of monthly films, Cathy Zheutlin for co-curating the series, and fostermedia studios for our movie graphics
- The hosts, collaborators, and participants of the events described here
- The clients, living and dead, who crack my heart open and teach me so much about death in our time
- The Orphan Wisdom School and the conversation partners I’ve met there, willing to be troubled out loud