All Souls Stories: Two Tales from the Vault

Mourning, in the streets: wearing Marcy’s nightgowns for Tucson’s 100,000-person All Souls Procession two years ago.

Participating in a powerful community mourning and remembrance ritual

Each year, Halloween looks more like Christmas. The lights are orange and white instead of red and green; fake spider webs stretched over hedges, instead of fake snow; the giant inflatables with motors droning, just as unconvincing. But amidst the holiday-du-jour trimmings, there’s something more macabre springing up on lawn after lawn. Fake graveyards. With body parts reaching out. Full-size skeletons, both human and canine.

I’m not sure what to make of this upsurge in death decor.

For me, the veil does seem thinner this time of year. Many of my dead have been reaching out. So many faces surfacing through Facebook memories. Marcy aglow with the zeal of a Cancer Warrior; Marcy cadaverous. Kathy, cadaverous and aglow, at a family wedding just days before her death. The reminders aren’t only digital. Every old growth tree seems to whisper the name of Bill, who loved these old ones with such a fervor.

In Tucson, tens of thousands are preparing to remember their dead in a community mourning ritual. Here, two stories of how we first stumbled upon the All Soul’s Procession, then returned with a personal altar to honor my father and, later, a flannel-bedecked tribute to my friend Marcy.

Monthly Film Night Comes to an End

Death Talk Digest readers know better than most that all good things must come to an end. And so it is with our monthly film and discussion series, Death Talk Goes to the Movies – we’re calling it quits after three great years of gathering on the 4th Tuesday of most months at the Clinton Street Theater.

If you’re in Portland, please join us for our last two months of events… Read More

The Perils of Autonomy & Independence

Interdependence: Three Sisters Garden, Tsyunhehkw^, Oneida Nation, Wisconsin

It’s often said that the Baby Boomers – 10,000 of whom are turning 65 each day now – are going to transform how we age and how we die. But I’m troubled by the form this seems to be taking.

Everywhere I see mottos of individual entitlement: “My Life. My Death. My Way.”

Every day my in-box contains another manifestation of this. A recent invitation offers a digital tool to join in “living well, dying better, and being remembered the right way….Achieving immortality has never been easier,” we’re assured “…in as little as an hour.”

Last week, thousands of people gathered in community meeting halls around the country to watch Dr Atul Gawande, bestselling author of Being Mortal, in a simulcast talk on “The Value of Community and Choice As We Grow Older”. Setting the stage for his description of the problem, he referenced the three plagues of growing old: boredom, loneliness, and helplessness. Read More

The Brilliance of Dying

sunflower on Sarah’s grave, dying in fall
On the eve of the Autumnal Equinox, a story by Carrie Stearns “about the grace of turning toward death with my beloved partner Sarah”.
From the blog of Holly Pruett, Life-Cycle Celebrant

The air is taking on that fall feeling. Cool nights filled with cricket song giving way to warm days. My garden is speaking of fall too. Sunflowers bent over heavy with seed and the last of the sweet cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine.

Fall is the season of brilliance. The quality of light holds a particular crisp golden shimmer that I never tire of. In another month the sunflower seeds left behind by the birds and squirrels  will be on the ground and the leaves will begin to turn themselves into a blaze of color before they too float to the ground. Fall, in all its brilliance, is the season of death. The earth makes no argument against it. There is no attempt to avoid it or cover it up. Everything simply sheds itself in a rush of beauty.

What if we allowed ourselves to turn toward dying the way the earth does, when our time comes? Might we also discover or taste a kind of brilliance? My story is about the grace of turning toward death with my beloved partner Sarah. I share it in hopes of casting seeds of encouragement to others. Facing into death and the storms of grief have much to teach us about life.

Sarah’s dying time came in late summer of 2012. She had endured 5 years of cancer treatment for Leukemia. These treatments never brought a cure but they gave her time. She embraced this time with an ever-widening heart that brought a fullness of living that was a gift to live alongside. Her willingness to live deeply and honestly within her experience of suffering gave her more life, not less. Read more…