The Sacred Act of Dying: A Conversation between Barbara Slaine of Alliance for Conscious Transitioning and Steven Jenkinson, Author of Die Wise
Death is a topic which makes many people in our society uncomfortable. Cultural habits have made this naturally occurring event one to be dreaded, feared and avoided. Ninety percent of people surveyed in 2013 said that talking to their loved ones about end-of-life care is important but only 27 percent said they had actually done so, according to The Conversation Project National Survey. Fairfield County’s new Alliance for Conscious Transitioning wants to help shift these statistics and educate people about how they can take the same care and preparation surrounding death as they might about giving birth. The organization’s mission statement focuses on opening the conversation to help people have conversations and learn to embrace every moment of the transitioning experience. They do this by providing resources, programs and services to support end-of-life transition. They will present a workshop with Stephen Jenkinson, author of Die Wise and featured participant in the documentary Griefwalker on June 5. Jenkinson teaches internationally and is the creator and principal instructor of the Orphan Wisdom School, founded in 2010. With master’s degrees from Harvard University (theology) and the University of Toronto (social work), Stephen Jenkinson is working to redefine grief and dying in North America.He is the author of Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul (2015), Homecoming: The Haiku Sessions (2013), How it All Could Be: A Work Book for Dying People and Those Who Love Them (2009), Angel and Executioner: Grief and the Love of Life (2009), and Money and The Soul’s Desires: A Meditation (2002), and a former contributing author to Palliative Care – Core Skills and Clinical Competencies (2007). The Alliance’s Barbara Slaine recently spoke with Jenkinson about his work.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
There is much at stake with every death, and not the least is the dying person’s sense of grievance and well-being. The question is not how would you like the dying of your loved ones to be...it is over and above controlling the willingness to approach your dying.
The Plea is rooted in having a prolonged encounter with this death phobic culture as it is displayed in the death trade. Most people die badly and no one wants it to be that way; no one votes YES… hence the title of my book, Die Wise. You die in the manner of your living.
What gives you the most hope and inspiration about the work and mission you’re engaged in?
I outgrew hope a long time ago when I saw what the obligation to be hopeful did to the dying and their families. Hope is one of the great tyrannies foisted upon dying people to do everything not to do while they are dying! Requiring hope to proceed in the face of considerable odds condemns you to not proceed.
What do you want readers to know about Conscious Transitioning?
Ceremonial practices around the world hover around puberty to ensure the passage involved in making a human out of a child to be a functioning adult. If being alive in the deep sense is an achieved, sought-after thing that trains you, then dying is an achievement as well.
Dying well is a matter of wisdom, not how you feel, but a deep learning, the willingness to have been wrong your life through about what was important and mattered without defending. Dying can teach us so much. Our reward system is to not die as long as possible.
We need to ask deep questions what passes for normal, passes for sane, passes for compassion and for love, and professionalism when it comes to dying. If you think all is okay why would you seek out any alternative? The dominant culture of North America is insane, business as usual. When I went to the conferences they were doing cheerleading exercises for doing a good job and how to do better.
How can readers support and get involved in your work?
Learn and become informed. Come to events, my school, read books. The Alliance for Conscious Transitioning provides this information to you in your community. The Alliance is holding a new monthly information group entitled “The Conversation” to bring new awareness to the sacred act of dying.
Based in Weston, the Alliance for Conscious Transitioning offers monthly discussions on various topics regarding life, death and end-of-life options. In honor of upcoming author visit with Stephen Jenkinson on June 5, excerpts from the Griefwalker documentary will be shown and discussed. Registration required. For more information about The Conversation, call 203-556-9521, email [email protected] or visit AllianceFCT.com.