Let’s talk about death: Local group aims to start the conversation
August 1, 2018
Comedy at a funeral home is not what one would expect on a Friday night, but those who make their way to the Chapel of Angels Mortuary this week will find a lighthearted and insightful evening about death. Not typically a fun topic, a local group called Posy-Filled Pockets presents a monthly selection of speakers to open the door to an often difficult and ignored subject.
Founded by writer Rachel James and Tim Lilyquist of the Chapel of Angels, Posy-Filled Pockets is described as a death-positive community project designed to encourage conversations about mortality through art, academics, industry and advocacy. The group's monthly series re-launches this week after a two-year hiatus.
The events consist of a lineup of speakers covering a different topic of death in an approachable and comfortable format. This week's theme, titled, "Gallows Humor: Yer Killin' Me," will embrace the humor that can be found in death.
Jamaica Karr, who will be doing a dramatic reading from a book called "All My Friends are Dying," has spoken at previous gatherings, but in no way considers herself a professional speaker. She previously did in-home care and was tapped by James, a close friend, to take part in the effort. She's spoken on topics that included hospice care and last meals. Karr was pleased to hear the events were returning.
"It's important to be able to talk about it and humor seems to lighten the mood," Karr said. "This brings a little bit of humor to a difficult subject, making it more palatable."
The evening will also feature Robert Strayer, whose talk is titled, "Laughing in the Noose: Humor and the Holocaust"; Liam Lambert, "Mic Drop: Stand Up Comics Pioneered Death Positivity"; and James, "Is That a Joke?: Is Black Humor Healing or Harmful?"
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Killing the stigma
James said they try to create a comfortable, low-pressure environment. Prior to the hiatus, the events became so overwhelmingly popular they moved to the Iron Door at the Holbrooke. She hopes to keep the gatherings at the Chapel of Angels in order to further increase people's comfort with death.
Lilyquist said that while these talks are entertaining, they hope that they will encourage more honest conversations about death and dying among individuals and their families.
"It is a difficult subject to discuss for many people and simply being able to talk about it is a major step," Lilyquist said.
The group also holds monthly workshops and seminars at the chapel. Those meetings are more practical in their approach to death and how people prepare and deal with it. They explain advance directives, as well as grief, laws, rituals and other logistical elements of funerals.
One of the major difficulties Lilyquist has experienced at the mortuary is working with families who've had no communication about the topic of death. People will have a loved one pass away and the next of kin will have no idea what their final wishes were.
He's also had a spouse come in and make pre-arrangements individually because their partner was absolutely against talking about it and the idea of going to a mortuary was unsettling.
"Some people feel that talking about death will somehow bring it to fruition," Lilyquist said. "And then there's sudden and unexpected deaths. It often brings up so many questions, many of which can never be answered."
Upcoming workshops include "Eco Alternatives to Embalming" on Sept. 22, "Creative Coping: Grief and Art" on Oct. 21, and "Where to Start When a Loved One Dies" on Nov. 17.
Lilyquist notes that while some attendees are coping with loss, the group and its speakers are not grief counseling.
The more lighthearted presentations are "Death & Industry" on Sept. 14, "The Afterlife: Beyond the Veil" on Oct. 12, and "Loved and Lost" on Nov. 2. Events are for adults ages 18 and over.
The monthly events attract a variety of attendees, from those that are simply curious to others who are looking for answers and solace. Whatever the reason, James and Lilyquist hope it creates a conversation and eases the stigma and discomfort.
"It's important to process emotional pain," Karr said. "Nobody likes to lose someone they love, but it's best to process it rather than bottle it up. It's important to experience all your emotions about death. Everyone's doing it."
Katrina Paz is a freelance writer for Prospector and is a resident of Grass Valley.
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