Aging, Death and Dying, End-of-Life Care, End-of-Life Planning, Health & Wellness, Living Abroad, Mexico, Retirement

Death Café Ajijic, Mexico; Ex-Pats and Snowbirds Talk Gently about Mortality

A group of American, Canadian, and UK ex-pats and “snowbirds” recently gathered for the first Death Café Ajijic, Mexico. There were 18 persons present at Café El Grano including an anesthesiologist, a hospice nurse, a hospice social worker, a psychiatrist, teachers, and others. There were two facilitators who work with end-of-life planning and transitions.

If the term Death Café (excuse the brash wording, I prefer Sacred Conversation or The Conversation) is new to you, you may hear it more and more.  Death Cafes or Café Mortels began with Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz who held over 100 such meetings in his native country until recently. In 2011, Jon Underwood, inspired by Crettaz, created Death Cafes in England (see history at http://deathcafe.com/what/  ).

These all-volunteer social events to discuss death and dying respectfully and informally (no agenda) are now held in 52 countries including Australia, Europe, Canada, the U.S., and parts of Latin America where death has sometimes, but not always, been a foreboding and scary subject.  Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim countries, and places with indigenous populations tend to consider death a natural part of life and honor it as such more easily. Most café organizers work with end-of-life, and tend to focus on alternative, kinder, spiritual ways of departing. Note: There is a Death Café in Singapore.

“At a Death Café… our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives,” states the Café web site. Most of all, the Café encourages an exchange of stories and perspectives as a way to embrace death.

What prompted a Death Café in Ajijic?

First, a number of retired ex-pats and visitors die in Mexico unexpectedly, and, they die without a health care directive and/or an end-of-life plan. There is a need for continued conversation and education.

Second, Loretta Downs, MA, has been speaking to locals at a popular venue, Open Circle (as well as at In the Heart of Awareness, the Buddhist center), about end-of-life for several years.  She flies in from Chicago every January to deliver her talks. About 300 + persons show up to listen as she encourages her audiences to become friendly with the idea of mortality and to prepare for it – think about it, and express to others what you want.  See http://www.endoflifeinspirations.com.

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Wendy Jane Carrel and Loretta Downs, End-of-Life Guides, Planners, and Educators; Co-Hosts of Death Cafe Ajijic 2018

Third, yours truly, Wendy Jane Carrel, MA, has been speaking to ex-pats around Ecuador for three years and subsequently in Mexico with the same passionate message – make friends with your demise, please make a plan.

It seemed natural for Loretta and I to team up to host a Café for Lake Chapala.

My interests had been reinforced as a result of volunteering two years at Juntos Contra el Dolor, the only 24/7 palliative care hospital and hospice in the state of Jalisco, a model for Mexico. I was given the gift of observing how painful chronic and terminal illnesses are treated, the politics of medicine, the politics of opioids, cultural difficulties related to dying, family constellations, and the difficulties of running a non-profit in a rich country (yes, rich in many resources) with little tradition of philanthropy. Most of all, I learned the concept of a “good death” requires much education and outreach in Mexico as well as at home.

Loretta’s friend Nancy Gershman, who produces Death Café NYC, gave us welcome pointers before the Ajijic meeting. We followed Nancy’s advice – small tables of 3-4 for intimate conversation, one of us (Loretta) to circulate and ensure participant exchanges were flowing, see that anyone who was recently grieving the loss of a loved one was comfortable, followed-up by an evaluation to learn what we could do better the next time.  https://www.meetup.com/Death-Cafe-New-York-City/

Cafe El Grano, nice partitions for intimate conversation
Cafe El Grano, Ajijic, Mexico – nice partitions and small tables for intimate conversation – also a most accommodating owner 😉

Because Loretta and I travel often, she is based in Chicago, and I in LA, we may not be producing other cafes until January 2019 unless another healthcare worker can pick-up in our absence.

Note: If you have not heard of Ajijic, it’s a sleepy Lake Chapala village, with a population of around 10,000, an hour south of Guadalajara. It is a popular tourist destination. Lake Chapala is home to around 20,000 full-time retirees from north-of-the border.

The DeathCafe.com web site indicates there are 9 death cafes in Mexico. I could only find one. It is located in Mexico City. See http://deathcafe.com/deathcafe/1695/ .

I have so much more to learn. I am now eager to return home to attend hospice social worker and end-of-life guide Betsy Trapasso’s Death Café LA https://www.facebook.com/deathcafelosangeles/   or Maggie Yenoki’s gathering in Pasadena https://www.facebook.com/deathcafepasadena/

References

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/12/what-happens-at-a-death-cafe/   excellent overview of a Death Café gathering in Sonoma, California by Shepherd Bliss

https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2017/mar/09/death-cafe-learn-talk-dying-patients

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/07/10/the-founder-of-death-cafe-has-died-but-his-movement-to-accept-the-inevitable-end-of-life-will-live-on/

https://www.facebook.com/DEATH-Cafe-Singapore-402018853254286/  a unique look at what Death Café Singapore is paying attention to

https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/take-me-to-the-death-cafe

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End-of-Life Care, Health & Wellness, Hospice, Long-Term Care, Palliative Care

Iconic British Rock Star David Bowie Creates a Good Death, a Hero’s Death

Iconic British rock star (singer, writer/poet, actor, dancer, and musician) David Bowie passed away at the tender age of 69 this week, two days after his birthday and the release of a new album.

Who knew he had cancer for 18 months? 

Below is an excerpt from an article I wish I had written based on subjects I like to speak of often – advance planning, creating a way for your end-of-life wishes to be honored, living your last days (if you have terminal illness) in a way you so choose.

Bowie seemed to have experienced a “good death” with the support of family, colleagues, physicians, and undoubtedly a splendid palliative care team. In the next months I trust we will learn more about the kind of care he had. What I like most is that he seemed to have been honored by those around him, that he manifested a way to live to see his birthday and the release of his album.  Rest in peace dear soul.

Here below is the excerpt from http://www.chtonicboom.com by Diana S-V. It is worth going to the web site to read the rest of the report…

How to Die Like Bowie, or, We Can Be Heroes

Posted in Music on January 12, 2016 by Diana S-V

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A picture from David Bowie’s final photoshoot, shot by Jimmy King.

By now, everyone has heard the news of David Bowie’s death of cancer at sixty-nine years of age. Bowie’s death came two days after his birthday and the simultaneous release of his newest album, Blackstar, and so many fans and Bowie aficionados likely received this news after a few days of appreciating the new album, revisiting old favourites, and generally appreciating the oeuvre of a man whose work, words, and aesthetic profoundly changed them in some way.

When I first read the news of his death, the first thing I felt was shock. The second thing that I felt was appreciation that what I was feeling was shock. Let me explain: Bowie is one of the most famous and widely known musical artists to have ever lived, and if he was living with cancer for eighteen months without it being public knowledge, it was very deliberate. This means that he, his family, and his colleagues had to make several complicated arrangements to ensure their privacy, and it also means that the folks who were a part of Bowie’s inner circle had to respect that desire for privacy. In other words, a number of factors had to be in place—human, bureaucratic, legal, and more—in order for Bowie to confront his death in the way that we wanted.\
The more I learn about things like his final photoshoot, the deliberate timing of the release of the video for “Lazarus,” and the tone of ★ (Blackstar) the more I appreciate what a good death looked like for David Bowie, especially given how much labour, organizing, and effort had to be expended in order to make this good death happened. In the weeks to follow, we will likely learn even more about Bowie’s final months and his approach to dying of a terminal illness, but in the meantime, what can we learn about how to die from Bowie? What can we learn about how to make a good death happen for ourselves? Here’s another way to think about it: how can we emulate, in a meaningful way, the worldview and courage of a man that was so widely admired and loved? I’ll be going into more detail in subsequent blog posts about my encounters with the following topics, but it seems to be that David Bowie’s good death consisted of several basic components or actions that we can all practice ourselves. (web site cited above has rest of Diane’s worthy story).

Here is a link to the Lazarus video referred to above…

http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/84892627/