The Clootie Well

I know virtually nothing about how my ancestors cared for and carried their dead. I was 25 years old when I first visited a cemetery that contained the bones of my relations. I had to travel nearly 6000 miles to get there.

Earlier this spring, Amber and I flew to Ireland, England, and Scotland seeking some kind of ancestral connection. A woman who has pondered these matters longer than I, who also comes from people from that part of the world, had introduced me to the practice of tying strips of cloth to a branch, something like Tibetans do with prayer flags. Without further explanation, she planted this seed: Our people have been doing this for a long time. Read More

PDX Death Café Seeking Facilitators

PDX Death Café Leadership Team Co-Chairs Lori Stevens & Kate Brassington
Applications now open for 2018 Facilitation Team

As we head towards our 5th anniversary in early 2018, PDX Death Café has been cited as one of the largest in 50 countries across the globe. We rely on volunteer facilitators to host our small-group discussions, and community venues to provide donated space. View our short application form. Read More

Stephen Jenkinson: West Coast Events

Click image to read Stephen’s short teaching on Care for the Dying

Next month I’m headed to the Ottawa Valley in eastern Canada for my 7th session of Stephen Jenkinson’s Orphan Wisdom School. Listening to Stephen “being troubled out loud” about the times we’re in, and exploring the history of how we got here, has radically shifted my understanding of what dying asks of us.

For those unable to travel east or enroll in the School, there are two opportunities to study with Stephen on the west coast this summer, at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, British Columbia. Read More

Dying in Community

25 participants gathered at Columbia Ecovillage for the inaugural “When I Die Dialogue”

An antidote to “My life. My death. My way.”

While considering one’s death has been central to many spiritual and cultural traditions through the ages, the modern incarnation in our individualistic, me-first society can become something of a vanity project.

“Get the funeral you want by planning it yourself” is one guidebook’s promise. (“Put the F-U-N back in funeral!”) It’s an understandable impulse at a time when institutional, commercially-directed funerals have become such a bad brand that many (my father included) don’t want to see a penny wasted on rites or ritual to mark their death.

The idea that one’s death is solely “our own” is an assertion unique, I’m pretty sure, to this time and place in the world. How might our deaths be about more than ourselves, tethered to the wheel of life, embedded in community? Read More

A Sad Farewell to the Man Who Started a Movement

Six years ago, a man and his mother started a worldwide movement. The 50-country-strong Death Café community is rocked today by news of the sudden death of founder Jon Underwood.

Jon, who inspired, guided, and supported hundreds of volunteer hosts and whose work impacted untold thousands, died suddenly on Tuesday 27th June from an undiagnosed Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia.  He was 44.

As for me, I consider myself enormously privileged to have shared a number of conversations with Jon. He generously made himself available across 8 time zones to advise me as I organized the first PDX Death Café in 2013. Among Jon’s gifts were clarity of vision and focus, and humble but firm directness in communicating that vision and maintaining the focus.

I was one of the plethora of hosts who veered from the simple and effective model that defines the Death Café brand. In those heady early years, Jon patiently conveyed to me the necessity of respecting Death Café guidelines if using the name, while never discouraging other approaches to talking about death. Jon’s integrity and skillful boundary-setting, along with his extraordinary generosity, will remain touchstones for me until the end of my days.

It’s not an overstatement to say that Death Café changed the course of my life. I know many can say the same. The ripples from Jon’s life will be washing up on shores around the world for years to come. I’m deeply saddened by news of his death, and deeply grateful for the way he chose to spend his days. Read More