Humility, Death Cafe 1/28

Last Sunday, I fully intended to post. I didn’t see myself falling off the wagon so early on in my posting regimen, especially since I was only posting on a weekly basis. I had topics scheduled out for at least ~3 months and hoped that between now and then enough inspiration would strike to keep the longevity of the blog rolling.

I also thought I had already experienced the shock and heartache of everything that Nov. 8 foretold. I had already set my sights on how ugly things were going to get and made adjustments thusly. My partner and I set up goals and credited our deadlines. We developed a ‘2 – 5 year plan’ to get out of trouble without landing in more trouble impulsively. We shifted our career and academic aspirations to be more productive and reactionary. We got married. We signed all manner of directives. We planned for the likelihood of trauma.

The irony is that I was following the same trajectory of the surviving kin that the retiring bereavement manager warned us about in our hospice volunteer on-boarding. In hospice, bereavement services follows up with the next-of-kin a year for at least and a month following the client’s death. Grief isn’t an isolated incident.  I already knew this—from personal experience and from perverse absorption from reading such things as Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking or overhearing fellows at my local Death Cafe chapter when I was but a mere attendee. But somehow I still didn’t see it coming.

When I woke up on Jan 20, I was prepared to read my materials for my theology program and maybe fit in some cursory reading of the ARC of The Inevitable that’s haunted my bookshelves for the past decade. What wound up happening was a total emptiness that melted the hours away from me. Hope all but diminished. I couldn’t imagine myself old. I could picture my partner growing elderly (I used the pictures of his uncle and his grandfather in my mind’s eye as reference points for my internal forensic projection), but I couldn’t foresee myself being a part of that vision—not for all the “transition goals“ colleges I’ve melded to idealize my future self. I couldn’t project my goals. I couldn’t see success… or failure for that matter. It was all void.

Totally realizing that I actually will die in this country consumed my weekend. I wondered if the fog would lift by Jan 28, when I was supposed to head the helm of the first Death Cafe Orlando meeting of 2017, or whether we’d all collectively be sitting in that haze.

Approx. fifteen guests were scheduled to come into my home, but ultimately it dwindled down to four very unique persons. We commenced by making a crack-shot comment about how “Pros and cons of a small gathering Death Café… it’s very intimate and everyone gets to say their piece.” Two people spoke who normally are passive participants, but active listeners. One person was new to the fold. We ingratiated our newbie gradually and covered mostly charted territories and referenced the revelations of past guests to our little somber soirees. We talked about what we knew, but also maybe deliberately avoided what we knew.

Recently I did an interview as part of a study on the impact of Death Café. I told the researcher how as an attendee, I felt very empowered, emboldened by these Death Café get-togethers, especially by the opportunity to speak and to be heard in a community. It’s too early to tell, of course, but as a moderator, as someone shook by imminent doom, I felt something opposite: I felt hapless—fraudulent, even. I find myself remembering something that struck me that our previous chapter lead, the effervescent (or, as I put it at Death Café, the actual fucking coolest and most interesting person I know) S. Elizabeth, admitted to. To roughly paraphrase the imprinted memory, S confessed that moderating these Death Cafés actually brought more and more fear, confusion, discomfort, apprehension to her relationship to death than what she anticipated. I might be starting to empathize to that point, but it might be too early to tell.

If 2016 was The Year of the Rise of the Death Positive Movement, then 2017 is going to be the year of “We’re here—now what?“ Although that might just be my depersonalizing the fact that 2017 is also the year that *I* have to nut up to the challenge.

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