“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” ~ Jim Rohn
This is Kathy Robinson. We just met today. The second she opened her mouth I felt like I’d known her my entire life. This photo is pretty much how we looked most of the day. Kathy and I had the opportunity to meet because we attended the first Death Cafe in Kentucky (as far as I know it’s the first). Marcie Christensen invited us along with Deborah Knittle (below). Marcie drove the chariot and picked us up one at a time. None of us had met, well, except we all knew Marcie. If that’s all we had done today I would have had a blast.
But our day was destined to be so much more than a joy ride. Death Cafe was held at the tea house on Furnace Mountain. If you’re not familiar with Furnace Mountain, it’s an 850 acre Zen Buddhist retreat near Clay City in Estill County. Imagine that: a Buddhist retreat in Eastern Kentucky! It’s so beautiful on that mountain, and the drive through the red river valley was simply gorgeous. You’re still wondering what on Earth a Death Cafe is, aren’t you? In short, it’s a small gathering of people interested in talking about death. Honestly, I didn’t know much more than that going in, so I was expecting tears and psychobabble. There was neither. Death Cafe is not therapy. It’s a simple gathering of people willing to talk about death and dying. As morbid as that may sound, the actual experience of it was anything but. When you think about it, it’s remarkable how little we are willing to talk about the subject.
This is Micki Eul with Kathy. Like Kathy, I loved her immediately. She and her friend, Tyson, shared a table with Kathy and I, and we were able to get acquainted fairly well. Micki, at only 38, is a three-year cancer survivor. Her brush with death gave her a different perspective on death from what she started with. But that perspective is very similar to that of Kathy’s, who said one of the most profound things today. She said, “My goal is to have a good death.” Think about that for a minute. What is your idea of a good death? If you ask Micki and Kathy, they’ll tell you it’s living every day as if it will be your last; fully embracing every ounce of goodness and happiness you were born on this Earth to experience. Can I get an ‘Amen?’
Now, you’re wondering why I was there, aren’t you? I haven’t had a horrible illness. I’m still young enough to (conceivably) double my age before I die of old age. So, why Death Cafe? I’ll tell you what I told the group. The day after my fourth birthday my Uncle Ralph Paul was killed in Vietnam. He played with me more than all my other aunts and uncles. He came to see me a lot. He was my friend, and that was a big deal for an only child like me. I don’t remember what mom and dad told me about his dying, but I knew there was no coming back from death. I also knew it was not the end. Whatever they said laid the foundation for me to handle death from that point forward. I’ve seen people die. I’ve watched people suffer until they die. I’ve seen them die young. I’ve seen them die when they’re a century old. One of the joys in my life is that I know and care about a lot of people. Knowing they could die before me is part of the love package. I’ve had to say goodbye to my share, but I’ve never felt like it was over. It’s just so long for now. My parents did their job really well, and hopefully some of what they gave me I can give to others. As I always say, ‘Ain’t none of us gettin’ outta here alive.’ Make sure yours is a good death.