Learn some tips for starting important conversations about death with people you are meeting for the first time!
In this episode I’ll share with you some stories about my recent yoga retreat and the many amazing conversations I was able to have with strangers about death and dying. I’ve got a few tips for you about starting up your own conversations about death with random strangers. (Here’s a photo from a sunrise hike I took during the retreat!)
Links to articles mentioned in this episode:
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This episode is sponsored by the album Healing Chants by Gia! You’ll love Gia’s angelic voice and ethereal music for meditation and relaxation. (Full disclosure: Gia is my daughter!)
Stay tuned to the end of the podcast as I’ll play her song Evocation as the Outro today!
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Today I’ll tell you about my recent 5-day retreat at a yoga center where I went to relax, do yoga and finish revising one of my books. While I was there I had the pleasure of talking with many other visitors to the retreat center about death and dying, which was fascinating. Normally I don’t find many people out in the general public who want to talk about death. And while the people I conversed with weren’t necessarily interested in death before our discussion they each seemed to come away with a new understanding or sense of peace.
In order to confront our society’s fear of death we need many more conversations like this to happen every day with people who are not already tuned in to death awareness.
Each of us needs to step up and reach out to others to start a dialogue about death that might prove very helpful to our conversation partner and very informative for us.
Here are my tips for talking with strangers about death and dying:
- Choose the right time and place: my conversations generally took place at the table while I was sharing a meal with various strangers. Breaking bread together creates an automatic sense of connection and safety since we usually associate mealtimes with positive feelings. There is also often some free time between courses where conversation can happen naturally. It may also work well to talk about death during other shared activities like hiking, gardening or cooking. Watch for the right opportunity to arise.
- Find common ground first: make sure you have established a basic connection by talking about the meal (or the garden, or the hike, etc.) Since my conversation partners were also there for yoga classes we had an automatic common subject to begin chatting about while we established a connection.
- Perfect your “elevator speech” which is a very brief story you tell whenever someone asks “What do you do?” The idea is that your answer is so brief you can complete it during a short elevator ride from one floor to the next. So think of one or two sentences you can use to answer that question and give another person an idea of your work. My answer at the yoga retreat was: “I’m a retired hospice physician who now writes books.” Tell them enough to garner their interest and curiosity and lead naturally to more questions. I purposely avoided mentioning death and dying in my initial introduction so that I wouldn’t frighten anyone away before we even got started. But most individuals I encountered were intrigued and asked more either about the hospice work or about the books I’m writing. Both of those questions led directly to a talk about death and dying. On several occasions the other person immediately brought up a story of a loved one or friend on hospice. Many times it was a story that desperately needed to be told and also came with questions about death, dying and hospice. I was amazed by the quality of conversation that occurred in these instances and the need for accurate information. I’m convinced that many people out there really do need to talk about death and dying but rarely encounter anyone they can speak to, which is where you come in!
- Hone your listening skills: for these conversations focus on listening rather than telling your own story. Watch for cues from the other person that there is a need to say something and encourage them to talk by asking a question or two and stopping to listen attentively. We are all passionate about our work and other endeavors and there will be opportunities to share that at some point in the future. Initially it’s more important to just listen and hold space so that the other person can ask questions and get the support they need. Rely on your intuition to tell you when that person is ready for a little nudge or encouragement to go deeper into their feelings.
- Share just enough information: again it is important to be a good listener so when you do describe your work don’t go overboard. Use simple and accurate terms to convey what you do but pause and allow the other person to ask for the information they need.
As you’ll hear when you listen to this episode I was able to have meaningful conversations with different people every day while I was at the retreat. These are some of the most important discussions we can be having right now so take a chance and strike up a conversation with a stranger about death and dying!
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Until next time …