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…

A Finished Heart

“Don’t tell people I had an easy death,” Chris Chenard (left) told his husband Eliott Cherry. “Tell them the truth.”
In advance of his Sept. 26 performance, a deeply moving, thought-provoking conversation with author and composer Eliott Cherry

On September 26, Death Talk Project presents A Finished Heart, written and performed by Eliott Cherry. A Finished Heart is a love story – a solo performance of real conversations between a dying man and his husband. A panel discussion will follow. Free admission, made possible in part by funding from the City of Portland and SE Uplift’s Neighborhood Small Grants Program and the support of the Clinton Street Theater. Learn more.

When did you first conceive of A Finished Heart?

As soon as I knew Chris was dying, I wanted to keep him – and our marriage – alive and visible to the world. There wasn’t so much a sense of conceiving, but of me being conceived by the boundless intimacy of caring for Chris and helping him die – born by it, I guess. Read More

Other Events: Fall 2017

Death Talk Project sponsors these regular events: Death Talk Goes to the Movies and PDX Death Cafe.

Check out what these good folks are offering in the coming months:

Grief Rites is a monthly literary showcase about all things grief, loss, death and dying. Post 134, 2104 NE Alberta St, Portland.


Thursday, October 5, Animal-Assisted Interventions for Grief Support, with Catherine Beckett, LCSW, PhD. This is the Northwest Association for Death Education & Bereavement Support’s quarterly gathering at the 18th Avenue Peace House in Portland, 11:30am-1:30pm.

We’re happy to publicize events offered by others in the community in exchange for reciprocal promotion of the Death Talk Project. Read More

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