When I got my first period, my mother took me out to the Ponderosa Steak House for dinner. Menstruation is not something that gets celebrated much. But I think my mom got this one right.
We have so many important milestones in our lives, and I really wish we made a bigger deal about more of them. I love ritual and celebration and marking things that are meaningful. But we usually just slide past them without much fanfare, or at least without much public affirmation.
There are three, though, that usually get you on the podium: hatching, matching, and dispatching. These are also the big three functions performed by clergy or civil celebrants ~ marking the moments of birth, marriage, and death. I, in my life and in my career, have been blessed to be part of all three.
We tend to be pretty good at the first two. In fact, maybe even too good. We spend inordinate amounts of time reading, prepping, learning, researching…and of course spending money on…weddings, and welcoming a new child into our lives. We do so much preparation that we almost convince ourselves that we’ve got it all under control and nothing surprising will catch us off guard.
My grandmother, on the other hand, liked to tell me that she did her own hair and wore a simple, sensible suit to her modest wedding, and that a baby can be just as happy in a dresser drawer or a laundry basket as a fancy cradle. She wasn’t wrong, On either count.
But while we’ve elevated both hatching and matching to big business, we’re not always so good at the dispatching part. And I get it. Let’s face it, death is neither cute and cuddly, nor is it fun and sexy. And for most people, it’s just damned scary. We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to think about it. We don’t want to prepare for it.
But I have never been able to avoid talking, thinking and preparing for death. Death has been a central player throughout my life. I was born into a grieving family and I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t know that the world was a frightening place in which someone could die at any moment. And while this can be an overwhelming and terrifying thing that most people prefer to run away from, my response has always been to lean in, to move toward, to be with those in the pain of grief. The only way I know how to be, is in relationship.
And so…I talk. And I invite you to talk too. This year I have started co-facilitating Death Cafe’s, a space to simply discuss death, dying, grief, and where they live in our finite lives. There is no agenda, no objective, no counselling. Just an openness to engage with whatever the group generates at any given time. And tea. And cake. And tears. And laughter. It is one of the most human spaces I experience. And I always come away with some new gem to keep in my emotional back pocket, for whenever I need it next.
I know that engaging with the end of life is part of my work while I’m here, even though I’m still not exactly sure how that might ultimately look. But isn’t that the point? Hatching, matching, dispatching…even though we all have experience with these thresholds in one way or another, the truth is that when we get there it is all uncharted territory. And I am doing my very best to stay open to the mystery that each holds.