Participants in the Okanagan Valley Death Cafe in Vernon discuss the topic of death at the Okanagan Regional Library Sunday afternoon. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)

Dying main topic at Vernon Death Cafe

Close to 30 people turn out for support and information about end-of-life preparations

As she watched her mom in her final days in hospice, Janice, whose real name alongside other participants’ names will not be used due to confidentiality requirements, decided to give up life as a wilderness guide and become a nurse.

Janice wanted to help others understand what she was going through as her mom’s end-of-life approached.

“I wanted to make sure people know how to prepare, how to plan, how to leave a legacy behind and make memories for their children,” said Janice. “I wanted to help people understand the grieving process and what that looks like, and help the person passing pass painlessly. I’m now a hospice nurse. It’s my dream job. People think it’s weird and dark.”

It was exactly what the North Okanagan senior wanted to hear after he shared his story, like Janice did, as to why they attended the Death Cafe Sunday afternoon at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.

Robert’s wife died six months ago from terminal cancer.

“We weren’t prepared for it,” said Robert, in his 70s. “I’ve survived prostate cancer and I wasn’t prepared for it. I want to help preparing for death. We didn’t handle it well with my wife. We knew it for two years that she was terminal but we kept putting things off.”

Things like getting the house ready for sale, cleaning out the house, and, in Robert’s case, telling an adult son with an injury that he was going to have to find a place to live.

Close to 30 people attended the Death Cafe, where talking is top on the menu. The attendees were put into groups of six or five and encouraged to tell why they were there. If they ran out of ideas, there was a capped mason jar on each table with ideas if needed. Only one of the five tables had an open jar.

Related: Death Cafe returns to Okanagan

Related: Death Cafe back for another season

“The Death Cafe is like a group coming together to talk about death dying, all the ramifications of it,” said Claudette Bouchard, an end-of-life doula and end-of-life coach who co-facilitated the Death Cafe in Vernon. “It’s where people can actually say something about death without being ostracized. It’s an open conversation.”

In the groups, cafe-goers say why they came in the first place, kind of an ice-breaker, and encourages people to take part in the conversation. Eventually, the topics will change.

“What we find here is kind of an impromptu support network,” said Luke, a Vernon pastor. “It sounds like, ‘wow, that sounds hard,’ and ‘that’s unique,’ and here’s where our mutual expertise comes in. From my side, on the spiritual side, I’m not dealing with the practicalities.

“I’m tremendously blessed about these connections that can be made on the practicalities. When it comes to the spiritual side, when the practicalities are underway because of open, honest conversation, it helps grease the wheels for the spiritual conversations I have with people.”

There were some tears shed at the tables, but laughter was also heard. A lot.

“The laughter is lovely,” said Bouchard. “Lots of laughter today and camaraderie.”

The Okanagan Valley Death Cafe returns to the Vernon branch of the library on Saturday, May 18, at 1:30 p.m.

For more information, call Bouchard at 250-938-4345.

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