A special event is happening on Tuesday, October 9th in Winnipeg. And I hope you will join me for a special evening with Stephen Jenkinson.
You have likely read my previous articles about the Death Café’s I host normally twice a month (more coming in September, October, and November if you want to sign up to be on the contact list). And I have also written in previous articles about “a good death” and what that means to me or what it may mean to you.
If you have experienced a family member having a good death, then you have experienced the peace we survivors can have knowing the individual died well. I invite you to join me for this special evening with a very enlightened person. Winnipeg is just one of many stops on this North American tour. You do not want to miss it!
Stephen Jenkinson wants to teach us how to die well. It’s a skill he believes we have forgotten in our culture. Though he is not a physician — he has master’s degrees in theological studies and social work — he served for years as program director of a palliative-care center at a major Toronto teaching hospital, where he provided counseling at hundreds of deathbeds.
In his job he heard over and over from colleagues that “everyone has their own way of dying,” but he says he rarely saw any evidence of this. The default manner of death was for the dying person to endure — to not die — for as long as possible.
I look forward to hearing more from Stephen Jenkinson about what he has experienced in our health care system and how we can learn from him and those that shared their dying experiences.
The other comment Jenkinson heard is “Everyone knows they are going to die,” but in his experience the opposite is true: the vast majority of people are caught off guard, unprepared even after having been given a terminal diagnosis.
Doctors are so accustomed to holding out the chance of survival, Jenkinson says, that they often encourage hope where there is none — and thus discourage patients from dealing with the difficult business of death.
It’s an approach that arises from compassion, but for Jenkinson it doesn’t allow the end of life to be what it should be: an important event, like being born or getting married. “We end without any ending,” he writes. “We are gone without any leaving.”
I have read his book: Dying Wise. Well, most of it. It was a tough read, but maybe after I hear him in person I will try again.
The documentary Grief walker, produced in 2008 by the National Film Board of Canada, accompanies Jenkinson on visits with the terminally ill. In the film Jenkinson talks about the truism that patients fear pain most of all. Even in the absence of pain, however, Jenkinson has witnessed a deeper fear: the fear of dying.
We might think that everyone’s scared to die, but Jenkinson believes this anxiety is not universal. He says it’s far more prevalent in our culture, which persuades people to resist and deny the inevitability of their own death.
In one scene he talks to a woman with terminal cancer who has had a hospital bed delivered to her home but hides it away rather than use it. When he asks why, she says she doesn’t want to be reminded of what’s to come. Jenkinson advises her not to “put away” her dying for some future date but to treat it as a “prized possession,” because it’s the awareness of death — and not happiness or positivity or stoicism — that allows us to live fully in the time we have. If we think there will always be more time down the road, we put off both our dreams and our obligations.
When asked: ”How did you arrive at your views about dying, despite growing up in a culture that is, in your words, “death phobic”? Jenkinson responds: “I recognized that something essential was missing. At every deathbed and hospital room, I didn’t see sane dying. I saw sedated dying, depressed dying, isolated dying, utterly disembodied dying. Sane dying would require a childhood steeped in death’s presence, an adulthood employed in its service, and an elderhood testifying to its necessity. Sane dying is a village-making event: lots of people with plenty to do, the whole production endorsing life. What does our way of dying endorse?”
I encourage you to join me on Tuesday October 9 in Winnipeg to hear Stephen Jenkinson live and in person. It will not be a dry lecture about death and dying. It will be an entertaining and thought provoking evening we will remember and live by for a long time.
It may help us embrace death for what it is and enjoy life more.
You can get tickets online: OrphanWisdom.com. I also have some tickets at my office if you would like to pick up ($35 each).
On a lighter note, you are invited to attend our Annual Open House on Saturday, September 29. I’ve moved it from January to September to avoid the snow and cold. Join me and my team for some food and beverage and light conversations. But as you know me by now, I love to talk about end of life issues too. Even over a coffee or a glass of wine.
Anni Markmann is a financial advisor who specializes in personal income taxes and estate planning. She works, lives, and volunteers in our community. Contact Anni at 204-422-6631 or Info@SteAnneTaxService.ca or 36 Dawson Road in Ste Anne (near the Co-op).