On October 8th, about 40 avid learners packed into North Tillamook Library to engage in a ninety-minute interactive program that explored the subject of dying, sponsored by the Tillamook County Library. Talking about Dying is a statewide initiative by Oregon Humanities, created in partnership with Cambia Health Foundation, to bring thirty conversations about death and dying to communities across the state from September through November. Talking about Dying provides Oregonians with an opportunity to reflect on what stories and influences shape their thinking about death and dying and to hear different perspectives and ideas from fellow community members.
Facilitator, Andrea Cano, framed the discussion by asking each attendee to describe his/her concept of death in just one word. The words reflected the experiences and beliefs of the person – “grief, transition, chores, lonely, transformation, release, inevitability, ending, peace, despair, fear, mother, grandchildren, friends…” She continued prompting introspection by posing other questions: What do you think about when you think of dying? As people you’ve known have moved closer to death, what seemed to work well for them and the people close to them?
The topics stirred up deep, and sometimes uncomfortable sentiments. People shared how they prepared emotionally and practically for the death of a loved one and gave advice on impediments they faced. Maintaining control and dignity was a common answer to the question – What do you want most as you are dying?
“Death is not a medical event,” was one of the last thoughts Ms. Cano left with the audience. Participants came away from this program understanding the value of community support and importance of further reflection and planning as they shape a meaningful approach to death and dying. Further discussions on the topic co-sponsored by North Tillamook Library Friends and the Rinehart Clinic are being planned for spring 2016.