Death. It happens to all of us sooner or later, whether we want to face it or not.
And while it seems we can summon helpers for any stage of life – from doulas and midwives at birth, to counsellors and other helpers during our prime, there’s not much when it comes to facing the end of our lives.
It should be a time of peace, of reconcilliation and love, and actually, death can teach us a lot about living, says Alison Moore, a Peachlander who also happens to be an end of life doula.
“Nowadays, a lack of exposure to death leaves us in denial and ill equipped to deal with one thing that affects us all. As we come to terms with the reality of our own mortality, we are positioned to live life more fully and we are better able to support each other, our families and ourselves when death impacts our lives,” she says.
Sounds noble. But how exactly do we get comfortable with death, whether it’s our own or the imminent departure of a loved one?
That’s where Death Cafés comes in. It’s an international movement, with more than 7,500 of these events hosted in 63 countries over the past eight years. Here in the Okanagan, Moore and her friend Sue Berlie have hosted several Death Cafés over the past three years, with one planned here in Peachland at the Wellness Centre this Sunday from 1:30 to 3:30. It’s not a grief support group, rather, an informal environment, guided by facilitators. There’s opportunity to have honest and respectful conversations about death, without any expectations, agendas or judgements. And despite the fact most of those who participate are strangers, they usually leave with a pretty in-depth understanding of each other.
“People are motivated to come for different reasons,” explains Moore.
“We’ve had young people, the terminally ill, men and women. Age is not a factor here.”
With her credentials as a Reverend, a Celebrant and a home funeral guide, Moore has a full understanding of all the phases of our lives.
“My late father would say ‘that’s my daughter, she marries and buries people,” Moore says. Her early work as an end of life doula was actually when her dad chose to pass away at home.
“I learned some important lessons being the daughter and also the doula and working with siblings. The deepest lesson I learned is that your client is the person who is dying, and we’re assisting them; they’re the focus, but the family needs support as well. There’s very different ways to deal with the dying process. It takes skill to be able to connect and bring people to where they are. For example, if family members are in denial, it takes a skillful person to meet where they are in the process, and gently bring them to the awareness of where the client is in the process. We nurture people when they’re present, and we nurture when they leave as well.”
Yes, it’s sad, but there’s some beauty in it as well. Why does she do it?
“Honestly, it’s because I’ve experienced so much death in my life,” Moore says, explaining that years ago, her best friend died of cancer at 30 years old. She was given six months to live, but held on for two years, givng them time to have some important conversations.
“I developed a real openness to having that conversation and somehow that attracted people,” she said, explaining she and Berlie are highly trained at what they do. She also draws from her own spiritual practice.
“I’ve always had an awareness of getting the most out of every day,” she says.
This is a good segue for something that’s been on my mind the last week or so. Our family’s beloved Maxine, or Mac, passed away in Alberta this week. She was 93 years old, and the last living matriach of her generation on either side. She was my dad’s favourite auntie, a single mom for many years, a world traveller, a teacher, a librarian, a bird expert, an avid volunteer and an early adoptee of recycling before it was considered cool. She was a very special person, always learning (she’d ask my husband all sorts of technology-related questions and listen to the answers with great interest), she loved our children, and she shared a giant cheeseburger with us at the Waterfront here in town a couple years ago. She instilled in generations of our family, a love of nature that is a gift we’ll always treasure. She did life right, our Mac, and we love her very much. I’ll think of her every time I’m here, in my favourite Peachland perch: