Helpful Conversation—on Such a Topic! (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, April 4, 2014

Helpful Conversation—on Such a Topic! (Feature Friday!)

Life - limited warrantee
Conversation starters. We all know them. “Hello!” “Pleased to meet you.”“How’s the weather today?” “How ‘bout those Bears/Hawks/Cubs?”

But what about topics that bring conversation to an absolute standstill? How about—death?

Small groups, medium-sized groups of people gather to talk about death at what is known as a Death Café. Some talk candidly, openly. Some with wistful sadness or still-palpable grief. Others with realism, tinged with fear or anxiety, seasoned with love for those who have passed on. Death, that final parting.

These Death Cafés can be made easier by adding tea (or coffee) and sweets. Here in the Chicago area, Death Cafés have been facilitated since October 2012 by Victoria Noe and Dan Bulf. A Café is not a therapy session, not a support group. But it’s a safe place, a space to be freely open about death and dying. Dan especially has taken the idea of Death Cafés and run with it. Dan Bulf is a trained group facilitator. He has hosted and facilitated Cafés at such diverse places as senior citizen residences and coffee shops, and—in ten days, at the Whole Foods in Northbrook.

But where did the idea for a Death Café come from? For that, we need to look to Switzerland, at the “café mortels” of the early 2000’s, organized by the Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. Inspired by this whole topic, a British man called Jon Underwood held the first Death Café in his home in England, in 2011. From there, the concept has taken off and become modestly successful. Modestly, because of the leery feeling that mainstream American culture maintains concerning death.

Dan recently reflected on one of several reasons behind these gatherings. “One of my personal challenges doing cause-based workshops like the Death Cafe is the accepting money in exchange for growth experiences. These experiences are offered to provide growth, connection and some fun. They come from my heart, so I make up that it should be a gift freely given. But there’s the reality that my time and efforts have value at a monetary level as well and intra-personal.”

One of Dan’s friends, whom he was trying to get to donate his time and expertise as a regular contributor, told him that money is like energy. It needs to flow, it isn’t natural to be contained or directed in a straight line. His philosophy made sense: a circle needs to be created and sustained for this energy. Dan figured that his efforts will dead end without participants completing the circle.

Dan has asked me to help him facilitate several of these Death Cafés around Chicago in the past year, because I have training as a chaplain, and with grief and end of life concerns. All kinds of thoughts of God—or a Higher Power—or a Life Force—are discussed. These conversations affect many, if not all, of those listening to a deep extent. I find them to be revealing, sensitive, even humorous at times. And many of those who attend have a Christian outline or understanding to life and death. Yes, sometimes certain people who come to a Café might still be dealing with some painful, raw issues. But Dan also wants those who attend to celebrate their finite lives, and not just get caught up in dark or sad thoughts.

He also needs to balance. To pick and choose where he might use his knowledge, understanding of group behavior, and ability to lead a conversation—and where the energy needs to flow. As Dan says, “It’s not easy.”

Thanks, Dan, for leading the way in this important conversation. (For more information see the website http://deathcafechicago.com/ )
@chaplaineliza
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Conference-Goer by Day, Pastor by Night

A Year of Being Kind blog –Wednesday, March 19, 2014

keep it simple

Conference-Goer by Day, Pastor by Night

Another day at the addiction and recovery conference. A rainy and chill day, this time. Good day to be inside. As I mentioned yesterday, I love being with fellow professionals. I enjoy getting a refresher on the area of my certification! (For those of you who are wondering, I have a state certificate in Alcohol and Drug Counseling. That’s on top of my master’s degree in Divinity.)

I loved both morning and afternoon sessions. Nothing too, too heavy. (Just kidding!) Seriously, just a seminar on grief and loss as related to addiction and recovery in the morning. This was followed by lunch and then a practicum on suicide. Both presenters were superb, and knew their stuff! I didn’t even mind discussing and learning more about such downer-subjects.

Many of the usual suspects—I mean, many of the same addictions and recovery professionals attend these sessions. I get the opportunity to hear from certain of them at the individual sessions. We all have some sort of service orientation, too. Many of these people are deeply concerned with and care about alcoholics and addicts, or drunks and druggies (as some people say). And oriented towards service? You bet! Such caring, loving service is natural for many in the addiction and recovery area.

I serve in the addiction community, too. I’m not currently employed as a counselor, case manager or worker at a recovery home or rehab unit, but I facilitate a spirituality group regularly at an inpatient drug and alcohol unit at a medical center several miles west. I’ve done it for the past nine years. (Gee, time flies when you’re having fun!) I do look on leading this group as service. Service to God (or, if you prefer, my Higher Power), as well as to the drunks and druggies who have just arrived in treatment.

A few years ago, when I was doing my two semesters of internship, I was able to serve as substance abuse counselor intern at this particular inpatient unit. After the ten month period of internship was over, I took the certification test, and added more letters to the end of my name. Oh, and I received a certification as Alcohol and Drug Counselor, too.

I praise God that I am available once a month to these good people at the inpatient unit, and facilitate the spirituality group. Many of those people in that unit are hesitant about religion. Understandable! If I had had similar experiences with church, religion, and dysfunction in the family, I probably would have a problem with religion, too! Since the recovery program and the 12 Steps are heavily spiritual (NOT religious!), this gives me an open door to talk about God.

Some prefer referring to God as their “Higher Power,” but I welcome any opportunity to let people know that God loves them, God has a plan for their lives, and God is with them—each day, all the days of their lives. One day at a time.

@chaplaineliza

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