Last Wednesday night, I stopped by a Vent Over Tea event led by the lovely Kit Racette. I had heard good things about the Death Café from a few people on our team, but in all honesty I didn’t know what to expect.
When I was on my way to the event, I realized that I felt uneasy, not quite nervous but not calm either. If I think about it now, I realize that I was having the same physiological reaction that most people have when they know they’ll have to talk about death. It’s uncomfortable, often awkward, and most of all, sad.
But when I arrived and took a look around the room at the different people there, who were from different backgrounds and were all different ages, it felt like we were all connected in the fact that we have all experienced death in some form. And we were here to talk about it.
There is one question that the event leader posed to the group that has gotten me thinking this week. What do you think is a good life?
Such a simple question, but not so simple to answer.
What does it mean to live a good life?
If I think about it, in my view a good life is one spent loving others and being open to love from others. I think it’s leaving your comfort zone and seeking out new experiences that will help you grow. I think it’s giving back to this world in any way that you’re passionate about. I think it’s spending time in nature and eating delicious food and laughing so hard it makes your sides hurt.
Sometimes it's valuable to take a step back and reflect on what really matters to us.
When I take a look at that answer, I know that it’s honest. But if that’s what I really think, am I doing it in practice? Am I leaving my comfort zone enough? Am I taking time to give back to my community and appreciate the lighter moments in my life? It’s so easy to get caught up in our fast-paced world that we sometimes forget what we really care about. It might be counterintuitive, but sometimes taking a step back and thinking about your mortality can be a very comforting exercise.
Why talking about mortality is important
I recently watched a Ted Talk by a man named Peter Saul who worked at an Intensive Care Unit for many years. Through countless interactions with very sick patients and their families, he realized that few people speak about death with their loved ones. He spearheaded a program at the hospital he worked at to train doctors and nurses to talk to patients about dying and how to open a dialogue into what their preferences would be if the worst should happen. They had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to this program. Both medical professionals and patients were relieved to start rationally talking about their inevitable fates.
When I think about my own life, I realize that I avoid talking about death with others, Saul would say that I am part of a cultural trend of avoidance. He emphasizes how important it is to not be afraid to talk about it, as it can be a very liberating process. Stepping back often allows us to reset our priorities. We can be so set in our ways to always want more -- more money, more beauty, more success. If we think a good life is about loving and being loved but our recurring thoughts in an average day are focused on other, more material things, then taking that step back can help us to recognize that discord. Hopefully this insight will help us move forward in a way that allows us to live a life more in line with our values.
I was very grateful to have been offered another perspective on life at this event. Instead of feeling like death and mortality are a morbid topic that should never be spoken of, it was nice to take a moment to reflect and think about why we’re happy to be alive. It helped me to feel grounded and grateful for all I have in this moment. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for a future Death Café event, it will give you a new appreciation for your life.
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