That was the mission of Death:OK, Let's Talk About It, a 10 hour day of "inspiration, information, and connection" held October 17, 2015 in Portland.
It was a stupendous effort (from the Latin stupendus, to be wondered at): 500 seats, sold out nearly two months in advance; 170 on the waiting list before we closed it down; more than 60 presenters and 70 volunteers; two years of planning meetings among our all-volunteer crew; an unpaid part-time job for a few of us for a good many months.
Testimonials from the day are deeply touching:
The people I met and the workshops I attended were extraordinary and full of heart wisdom. To break the silence and give voice to death makes all of our lives richer and more vibrant. May you all know you gave a wonderful gift to our community, and to me personally.
I feel the world was changed by this event and the bringing together of like-minded individuals in kindness and love.
Perfection wasn't necessary, heart and flow were. You were guided by all your ancestors plus your brilliant minds and caring hearts made for a magical experience.
My gratitude to all of you for your vision, hard work, magnificent planning and most of all your open hearts. A remarkable project. The open heart part is what made it so remarkable to me. The whole day had such a feeling of calm spaciousness, genuine warmth, along with just plain wonderful energy. Only could have come from your open hearts and grace all along the way.
I feel deep gratitude and a sense of having sat with 'my people' in communion this past weekend. I was roused and rattled, touched and inspired...and mostly just plain excited and happy to be part of this most amazing day.
At the same time, the day reflected back to us all that is so deeply broken in the dominant culture of North America, as much as it sought an alternative. Keynoter Stephen Jenkinson alerted us to "Coping, hoping, and - when all else fails - doping," the three-headed hydra that slays any possibility of a sane relationship with dying, grief, and death. He reminds us that if conversation about death is like every other comfort-seeking measure in North America, we're at risk of turning a wolf into a poodle so it will sit on our laps. He invites us to consider that death will not be domesticated, that the new fifth column of "death hipness" could well be the new boss, same as the old boss, as The Who warned in "Won't Get Fooled Again".
My jubilation over the success of the day sits side-by-side with sobriety, humility, and deep grief in the face of our pervasive illiteracy when it comes to dying and death. Coping, hoping, and doping have worn a deep groove in the years of my life - it's hard to know what else there is.
Jenkinson offered no easy answers. But he did provide a glimpse of what else there might be, if not coping, hoping, and doping.
For all that Jenkinson's unwelcome truths may have seemed an indictment of our efforts, he saw and named our work for what it was at its heart: a love letter to the place we live. A way of saying: We care. We're troubled by how it is. We want better for ourselves, for those who will follow, for those who came before us. For the love of all that is in the world, seen and unseen, we have work to do.