Reflections on Minnesota Threshold Network Meeting of March 9, 2020,
Reader’s Theater of A Death Caring Community…
Over 65 people and 18 readers filled the space at Falcon Heights United Church of Christ. The Reader’s Theater of A Death Caring Community was a response to the accidental deaths of two teens. Created for a national conference in 2019, this was the first presentation in Minnesota.
BACKGROUND for those not at the meeting:
Dennis Dietzel: “When Nina (our daughter) and Kirsten (Linda’s daughter) were killed in an automobile accident and Linda was severely injured, we were so fortunate that the community where the accident occurred had experience with a home vigil. When that was offered as a possibility, we knew immediately it was the right thing. For us and so many others it provided a beginning to our grief journey that was surrounded by love and beauty, and provided a touchstone which has allowed us to give back to others over the years. Just as for birth, the time of death is too precious to give over to others if it is possible for us to claim it for ourselves and our loved ones who have crossed the threshold.”
Linda Bergh: When Marianne and Dennis and I were asked to share our experience for a national conference, we contacted people in NY (and family from Minnesota) and asked them to write their story. Then we created a script and shared it, with people reading their own parts. It was presented at Sacred Gateway Conference on Conscious Dying and After Death Care, and the Journey Beyond in May 2019 for 150 people in Harlemville, NY, where the accident happened in 1996.
This year MTN supported us in sharing this same script – but with readers from Minnesota. All of the readers knew the Dietzel and Bergh families at the time of the accident.
From Ann, attendee: I could see through the story that Kirsten and Nina had laid a foundation, scattered seeds, and ignited love in the community that then became shelter for their passing and solace for their MN families. . . . . I could feel that love when one reader described the dark road and four broken-hearted travelers, coming upon the house with lights, filled with love and a safe place to weep and be with Nina and Kirsten in death.
From Karen, MTN member/leader: I saw Monday evening as a great undertaking and a Celebration of the Story of 1996 for the three of you parents, your daughters and sons and your communities. Thanks so much for your “eloquent authenticity” in sharing the pain and the joy and connectedness that you all experienced. I loved the music as a beautiful expression of the “pauses” that we all need to take in life. You did a wonderful job on the saxophone, piano and lyre.
“Community building in action.”
“I do hope you’ll be able to share your story at other places in the future.”
“I came away with one sentence: “Love is greater than loss.”
From Linda Bergh: What a remarkable evening, I am grateful for this conscious dying work and a community open to experiencing our learnings about how love is always here, even in the most challenging moments. After the reading last night, we talked about community, and I realized this morning that the event itself was an expression of community. Having the courage to be present to each other’s stories builds connection, so that we can listen when our own lives ask us to step up.
With the music of the saxophone and piano still ringing deep inside, I want to thank those who read, those who came, and those who were with us in spirit.
Here is a segment from Kirsten and Nina’s dear friend who was 15 when the accident happened:
Hours and hours of travel – Warm welcoming arms of comfort. The hospital bed with Linda curled up in shock Then – Arriving where I did not want to be ……
A living room I had been in just a few weeks earlier when I had visited Kirsten before I left for school in France. I was afraid to go in. Yet in all the awfulness of the moment of seeing Kirsten and Nina’s bodies, what I found was a welcoming warm space. Grief and shock were everywhere in the room, but it was not a scary place. This community of people I hardly knew had created a space where I felt welcomed and simply allowed to be with my friends’ bodies with no expectations. I felt so grateful. Food, candles, gentle quiet, music, warm hugs, crying together.
With the sudden nature of these deaths, the vigil gave me the space and time to say good-bye and be with Kirsten and Nina’s spirits. I spent hours just being there next to the wooden coffins in the middle of the living room. I stroked their hair, sang to them, talked to them. I was made to feel that this was normal and okay, that grieving and death can be part of community life. I believe my grief process was greatly impacted by the way this community held space for the deaths of my dear friends.