THE SAGE CONNECTION
I firmly believe in lifelong learning. But I must confess when Danny Stusser asked me to go to a Death Café to get material for my column, I was dumbstruck.
What on earth is a “Death Café”? For that matter, what in the world is a “Death Doula”? And what was I thinking when I agreed to go to one?
A chat about life's end over coffee and cake does not sound like anything my friends and I would discuss when we get together for a visit.
I had absolutely no clue what to expect when I entered the Death Café being held at the South Sound Senior Center in Olympia.
What I found was a delightful group of seniors, and a death doula by the name of Glenn Harper, talking about a subject we cannot escape and is too often avoided.
The Death Doula or End of Life Doula:
Glenn Harper is the Death Doula leading the Death Cafes at the Virgil Clarkson Senior Center in Lacey and Olympia Senior Center. He describes his title and role in this way; “During the pandemic, I took and graduated from a four-month online end-of-life doula course. Many people are familiar with a birth doula, which is a person who guides new mothers through preparation for the birth process.
More recently, the term death doula, or end-of-life doula, has been used to refer to people who assist people who are dying, and their families, to navigate the challenges that accompany the transition at the end of life.
This can be anything from assistance with paperwork such as living wills, do not resuscitate orders, funeral arrangements, respite care for the terminal patient to allow family caregivers a break, memorial celebrations of life, etc.
Often, a third party can help navigate some of the challenges that come with the end of life with a more objective and clear-eyed view than people closer and more emotionally charged. Having said that, the dying person’s wishes should always be of uppermost importance.
The Death Café:
The Death Café I attended could seat 12 comfortably and was pretty full when I arrived, but as time wore on, more people arrived and more chairs were added. We all introduced ourselves and talked a little bit about lost loved ones and the emotions, guilt, and fear, death and death discussions can bring to mind.
Another common denominator was the fact so many of us had family members unwilling to discuss our end of life, period. Being seniors that had all lost loved ones, end-of-life options were discussed and ranged from the natural composting burial allowed in our state to common services like cremation and burials, along with different rituals observed by different cultures and beliefs.
As more stories were shared, more questions arose and tips were offered, like always use the legal form for a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) and follow the legal requirements for this and other forms. Another question: the difference between a medical power of attorney and a standard power of attorney?
Another question concerned whether you would want lifesaving steps to be taken if you were found unconscious or not breathing. Everyone seemed familiar with the recommended placement of your DNR on the refrigerator so first responders could quickly find your wishes.
But, as one guest asked, what if you are not home when this happens? Another guest informed us you could put DNR on your phone under your emergency contact. Cards and bracelets, similar to the medical alert type, are also available.
I found several options on Amazon for DNR wallet-size cards, medical alert-type bracelets and refrigerator magnets
No one who spoke seemed to fear death itself but did not want to linger in pain. The Death with Dignity Law was touched upon, but tabled for another day as time began to run short.
All in all, it was a very comfortable and informative gathering and I would attend again.