Dying to Know Day offers a valuable and creative opportunity to get together with friends and talk about death and dying in a comfortable, casual way. For the past two years I’ve invited friends over to my place to share a bowl of soup, a glass of wine, a cuppa and some cake.
The preparation was minimal. I sent out the invitation to about 20 friends, colleagues, neighbours – people I thought would be interested. Here's what I wrote on the invitation:
I’m inviting you to my ‘Soup and scintillating discussion about all things death and dying’ lunch at my place on Thursday 6 Augustfrom 12:30pm. The GroundSwell Project is hosting the third annual Dying to Know Day to encourage ‘grassroots’ conversations about death to help normalise this important part of our lives. I think they do a great job and I am pleased to support their campaign again this year.
Last year’s ‘Soup and death’ lunchtime gathering at my place was a great opportunity to get together with a group of fabulous people and throw around questions and thoughts without boundaries. It wasn’t morbid, it was enlightening and fun – with space (and tissues) for any tears along the way.
If you’d like to come along, please let me know. It’s all pretty casual. I’ll make up a couple of pots of hearty soup, we can share some wine if you like, and maybe a cake or two. Importantly, the conversation will be inspiring.
About 12 people came along with a cake or a bottle of wine. I ordered some resources from The GroundSwell Project, as well as CareSearch about palliative care. I also pulled out all of my own books about death and dying for casual browsing.
Many people didn’t know each other, so I’d asked them to come along with their funeral song. We generated a list of great and diverse songs as each person introduced themselves, and I sent a follow up email with links to each song afterwards.
We then split into two groups of six and used some of the images from Dying to Know to stimulate discussion prompts like ‘Living well, dying well, how can we do dying better?’ and ‘How do we grieve … what intrigues you about grieving?’ We mixed the groups up halfway through, ate and drank along the way, and came back at the end to write a ‘letter to me’, describing how we’re going to ‘do death better.’ I posted the letters out a couple of months later.
It was heartening to receive some valuable feedback about the day:
‘I had no expectations prior to coming. What I found refreshing about the day was that we had an ‘adult’ conversation about death that was reflective. It made a clear assumption that everyone had a personal experience of death, with varying experiences and responses. While the sessions did not demand the particulars of each story, we were challenged to draw from our individual experience.
The day addressed death and dying and so naturally encompassed grief, but did not hand itself over wholly to that one aspect. While recognising it can valuable to ‘vent’ individual anger or injustice or sadness, I was pleased the sessions were never presented as, or allowed to become a ‘grieving’ group, which is testament to the gentle structure you put in place and to the approach of each attendee – but there were always opportunities for one to one discussion where personal stories could be aired and I am also sure great healing and understanding to draw from the group discussions. Great concept of planning for your own death – getting each of us to think outside our own ‘box’ (to coin a phrase!).’
‘Just telling my friends and family that I have been to the event opens new conversations with others who find the topic difficult. The event success has been driven by very considered topics to help start what can be challenging conversations. I only wish everyone had the chance to take time out to really explore this area of our life that is so scary for some and taboo for our community.’
‘I attended your Dying to Know Day because I knew that my daughter’s death was inevitable some time within the next few years. Although we didn’t specifically discuss supporting a family member to die at home, there were resources provided about palliative care and other services, which I found helpful. I still found the day immensely helpful because I was with people who were prepared to talk openly about death. It’s still so rare. It was wonderful meeting people who had experienced the death of someone dear to them yet were still there to tell the tale, all with resilience and often with humour. We were all part of the same “club” and there’s great comfort in that. I loved the informality of the day’.
‘The day was the catalyst to my own journey in pursuing further information and study into death and dying. This was because the day was so uniquely different to anything I had previously experienced. I think it has been so great to be with like-minded people who are completely comfortable with discussing anything to do with death and dying in a supportive and non-judgemental environment. I enjoyed hearing about others’ experiences in both a personal and professional sense and it just reinforces my absolute belief about the importance of normalising these conversations in the wider community.