Death and Dying, Death and Dying Education, End-of-Life Education, Health & Wellness

Unique Learning Experiences at Death Cafe Santa Barbara and Death Cafe Santa Monica

In January of 2018 Loretta Downs, M.A. gerontology, and I co-founded Death Café Ajijic aka Café Mortality Ajijic at Lake Chapala, Mexico.

The first café started the next month with the intention of encouraging the mostly retired community to talk about and prepare for end-of-life, not only to save loved ones and neighbors a lot of grief and time, but to provide a space to talk out feelings, hopefully leading to more well-being.

Because we travel a lot, we invited other health professionals in the community to join as volunteer hosts. We have been fortunate. There is now a rotating team to handle responsibilities for the all-volunteer events starting in 2019. We continue to do our best to improve the experience for attendees. One of the best ways for me to learn is to experience other Death Cafes.

For those of you unfamiliar with Death Cafes, they have been in existence since 2011 and are now in 63 countries of the world.  See www.DeathCafe.com for a café near you.

I was recently in Santa Barbara, CA, originally a Spanish mission post, to attend the Santa Barbara Death Café.

It was a pleasure to enter the donated venue at 11 E. Carrillo Street, the Hill-Carrillo Adobe. Beautiful place built in 1825. It is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Hill-Carrillo Adobe, circ 1825, Santa Barbara, CA
Hill-Carrillo Abode, Santa Barbara, CA

There are three dedicated hostesses in Santa Barbara. One of them provides her grandmother’s tea cups and linen. Others bring cake or cookies.  Attendees offer donations to defray expenses.

Death Cafe Santa Barbara tea table

One of the surprises for me was that Santa Barbara Death Cafe provides a mobile library. They bring books in a large carton each month for participants to check out!!  I love this idea!! 

Death Cafe Santa Barbara lending library

Participants in Santa Barbara are all adults, mostly older adults. In a group of about 20, there were two men, one a recent widower.  We introduced ourselves to each other at a long, rectangular table, one by one, sharing briefly what brought us to the café.

Conference table at Hill-Carrillo Adobe, Santa Barbara, CA

We dispersed after the introductions to talk in groups of three, four, or more. It was organic, and attendees were encouraged to move to another group if they so desired. I see how attendees return over and over again. The hostesses and environment feel cozy and safe.

Thank you Death Café Santa Barbara and Center for Successful Aging for your hospitality!!!

I also attended an intimate Death Café in Santa Monica a few days prior to the Santa Barbara Café. It was hosted by a lovely woman at her office space. She is a psychologist, grief counselor. death doula, and drama therapist from Pasadena. There were five of us all together. The counselor led by asking why each came, and the other three participants, each in their 30’s, were off and running, lively and engaged from the start. Time went by quickly. This multi-talented lady also offers a Death Goes to the Movies night. Recently she screened a documentary about a psychiatrist/musician preparing for his green burial.

Both cafes in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica were unique, rewarding experiences. You may find the next dates for these Death Cafes or others near you at http://www.DeathCafe.com.  If you do not find one, perhaps you may have a desire to start one.

Please see the following links for articles about two of the cafes in Ajijic if you are interested – how we organized, and how attendees shared experiences at the end.

https://wellnessshepherd.com/2018/02/25/death-cafe-ajijic-mexico-ex-pats-and-snowbirds-talk-gently-about-mortality/

https://wellnessshepherd.com/2018/08/12/the-death-positive-movement-is-alive-amongst-retiree-ex-pats-at-lake-chapala-mexico/

Caregivers, Death and Dying, Death and Dying Education, End-of-Life Care, End-of-Life Education, Hospice

All Volunteer Hospice of San Luis Obispo County Sustainable for 41 Years

For the last few years I have had the good fortune to visit palliative care and hospice entities in California as well as in six states of Mexico with the objective of learning more about what works, what’s missing, and what might work in Mexico for years to come. There are challenges based on cultural differences, but all is possible.

I am comparing various models – hospitals and facilities (medical), in-home community outreach (medical and/or volunteer), all volunteer, government, non-profit, and for profit.

Hospice of San Luis Obispo County (HSLO) has been on my radar for some time because it is a successful, locally based non-profit volunteer hospice that has sustained itself for 41 years!! For those of you who are familiar with the operations of non-profits, this is an extraordinary achievement.

Aside from serving the public, HSLO educates and trains locals and others as end-of-life doulas (companions). They host Death Cafes and much more.

The sustainability is based on more than dedication and love – mainly inventive ways to engage the public, an especially hard task in a difficult economy.

Hospice of San Luis Obispo County, California office

I am so pleased I was finally able to visit HSLO. I am indebted to the Executive Director and the Director of Volunteers, the few paid staff, for a warm, meaningful, memorable exchange.

HSLO is one of six hospice services in a county with a population of around 284,000. It is the only volunteer in-home hospice supported by the generous energy of over 200 volunteers. They serve approximately 5,000 persons per year.

Any county resident with life-limiting illness is served through “in-home respite care, emotional, spiritual, practical and non-medical support, and grief counseling support (group and individual).”

Other services are education about dying and death for professionals, caregivers and the community, doula programs, Death Cafes, Threshold Choirs, and Pet Peace of Mind groups.

From my perspective their outreach and activities place HSLO in the vanguard of the “death care and the death positive” movement that is sweeping North America and beyond.  It is exhausting but rewarding work.

Additional treat: I was blessed to attend HSLO’s annual Light Up A Life candlelight vigil held at the San Luis Obispo Mission on a nippy, rainy evening. Names of those who have passed were read out loud during the hour service that included a choir. Later we carried candles outside for readings and prayers.

Light Up A Life Candlelight Vigirl, San Luis Obispo Mission, California

Anyone may pay a fee (fundraising) to have the name or names of loved ones read at Light Up A Life. This lovely event is repeated during one week in December in different cities of the county.

HSLO was created in 1977 and has an excellent reputation through word-of-mouth.

Services are provided without charge; no insurance company is billed. 

HSLO relies on community donations, fundraising events, grants, doula training fees, and the time of its over 200 volunteers.

Hospice of San Luis Obispo County is a remarkable operation.  So much goodwill!!  A great gift to the community.

The home which serves as office was bequeathed to HSLO by Dorothy D. Rupe; it bears her name.

1304 Pacific Street, San Luis Obispo,CA  93401  tel. (805)544-2266

http://www.hospiceslo.org/

HSLO is a member of the Better Business Bureau and is a Top Rated Non-Profit.