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.
All MTN events are free and open to the public. Donations from the heart are always welcome and help pay for brochure printing and venue rental.
Accessibility and Parking at the Falcon Heights Church:
- The meeting is on the main floor, with the entrance to building accessible via sidewalk from the curb.
- One gender-neutral/accessible bathroom and two single-gender bathrooms available on main floor.
- There is ample parking in lot across the street, including disability spots.
To help us look ahead, here’s the schedule of MTN Twin Cities events for the rest of the programming year. Each event will get its own post closer to the date, as details become known.
- March 9, 2020, 7pm. A Spontaneous Death-Care Community that Emerged after the Tragic Deaths of Two Teenagers: A Reader’s Theater with the Girls’ Parents. Location TBD
- POSTPONED. Holding Space for Loving, Dying, and Letting Go (Amy Wright Glenn’s work). Location TBD
- TBD. How MTN volunteers support people without supportive family or community who want home after-death care. Location TBD
- TBD. Death-Care Planning, Advance Directives, Talking to Your Family & Friends. Location TBD
The February MTN Twin Cities meeting will take place:
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Springhouse Ministry Center
610 W 28th St (click for map)
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Join us for a the first public showing of Amy’s Story, a documentary about the life of Amy Van Meter–a powerful activist, mediator and listener-of-the-heart–who lived with MS and chose her own death. This film explores the interweaving of love and loss, power and the painful grappling with deciding how and when to die. Filled with heart-breaking choices and deep love and honesty, the film raises faithful questions that invite us all into a conversation about what it means to live life to the fullest, when to choose death and how to do it with love and honor.
This event is co-sponsored by MTN and The Center for Sustainable Justice and will include a viewing of the film, a discussion with Amy’s family and members of her chosen family and time for refreshments and conversation.
Deepest gratitude go to Angela Jimenez Photography and Melinda Bekker for the creation of this extraordinary film.
Venue accessibility information:
- The event will be in the Garden Sanctuary. There are both stairs and an elevator. The elevator is about 6-10 feet from the door and then the Garden Sanctuary is about 20 feet from the elevator.
SpringHouse has one all-gender/accessible restroom next to the Garden Sanctuary and 2 single-gender restrooms with several stalls (one of which is accessible with a grab bar– men’s has a grab bar on the right, women’s on the left). There are also 2 more all-gender restrooms upstairs.
Some of the lights in the space are adjustable, and some are on-off.
Traffic noises are not audible in the space. There is a blower for the furnace but it isn’t loud.
Scented candles are sometimes used in the space. SpringHouse can remove any scented candles but there may have been some in the past.
- MTN encourages carpooling whenever possible. Here’s the RickyRides carpooling page: http://www.rickyrides.com/mtn-twin-cities-february-meeting
- SpringHouse Ministry Center is served by several major bus lines. MetroTransit Trip Planner: https://www.metrotransit.org/
- Parking at the venue: SpringHouse Ministry Center has about 15 spaces in the parking lot that is shared with World Street Kitchen (accessed off of Lyndale or 28th Street) folks should park in spaces labeled for SpringHouse parking (there are some spaces that are for the Greenleaf apartment residents only or World Street Kitchen only). Also, there is street parking on 28th Street and Garfield Ave.
The next Minnesota Threshold Network Twin Cities meeting, “Working Respectfully with Trans and Nonbinary Communities,” will take place on:
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
St. Peder’s Lutheran Church
4600 E 42nd St
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(click link for map)
Transgender and nonbinary people have existed for as long as human cultures have been creating genders, but some of our language and concepts may be new to you. Transgender and nonbinary individuals and communities may have different needs and face different challenges around end of life and after-death care than our cisgender peers. Join Minnesota Threshold Network on a journey through the wonderful world of trans and nonbinary terminology, current concerns, and what we in the deathcare field can do to ensure that our work respects this diverse and vibrant community.
Our guides on this exploration are:
- Root Holden (he/they), transgender podcaster and death educator
- Shannon TL Kearns (he), transgender playwright and theologian
- Eli Effinger-Weintraub (they), nonbinary MTN member and death radical
MTN facilitators: Eli Effinger-Weintraub and Anne Murphy
All Minnesota Threshold Network meetings are free and open to the public. Donations from the heart for space rental and printing materials are gladly accepted.
- Building is ADA compliant. There is no curb cut on the east side of the building (where we will be entering), but the entrance is accessible from the sidewalk. We will update later once we understand how to best access the sidewalk that leads to the door.
- Building has an all-gender restroom.
- Lights are either on/off, not dimmable.
- There is a furnace that occasionally will make one loud-ish hissing sound. It is unpredictable.
- Scented cleaning products are sometimes used in the space. Please limit your use perfumes, lotions, or other scented products as much as possible before the event.
RickyRides carpooling link: http://www.rickyrides.com/minnesota-threshold-network-january-meeting
We are grateful to Ellen Hufschmidt and Kyoko Katayama, who facilitated last night’s wonderful meeting on facing the holidays after the death of a loved one, for sharing these Ten Tips for Grievers, adapted from the writings of Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
- Know that each person’s grieving process is unique. Trust and follow your own intuition in concert with the council of supportive friends and guides as the best way for you to grieve.
- Talk about your grief. It is very important to the healing process. Seek out others that can be good listeners and will allow you to talk, without needing to give you advice. Avoid the thinking that nobody wants to hear your pain or your story. It’s also OK to be silent when it’s what you need to do at a given moment.
- Allow yourself to feel a wide range of fluctuating emotions. These feelings will include sadness, fear, anger, guilt, confusion, disorientation, and even relief. These are normal and reasonable responses to grief. Find listeners that will be free of judgements and can accept all your feelings.
- Be accepting and tolerant of your limits. Feeling and processing your own grief is hard work and can leave you tired and exhausted. This is normal. It is common to need more rest. It’s important to eat a balanced diet even though that may be hard to do. Stay close to your own sense of what activities fit and which may seem too much to take on at a given time. Remain open and willing to try new things.
- Be gentle and forgiving with yourself when you have emotional outbursts of tears when they are least expected. When this happens, it can feel a bit frightening and out of control. Being overwhelmed by feelings is common. It’s much healthier to have the experience than to suppress that energy by keeping it in your body to fester. It’s helpful to find people you can talk to that know from their own experience the awkward feelings that arise when this happens.
- Make use of ritual and ceremony. It’s a way to acknowledge the loss, but also brings together the support of people that love you and share in your sadness. Today many people are foregoing gatherings such as funerals or services of remembrance. This makes the grief process more difficult. It is helpful to share in the biggest of life’s transition that we must all face at one time or another. We know that some kind of structured acknowledgement of our losses is useful. Gatherings surrounded with our loved ones and others that are feeling the pain of loss help us come to terms with our human condition, that people we love will die.
- Embrace your spirituality. Finds ways that are useful to you, such as: daily readings, journaling, quiet time for silence and contemplation, or talking with those you trust from within your faith. Sometimes anger at God or our beliefs comes up. Find room to accept these emotions as part of the transformational “circle of life” path you are on. Find a spiritual teacher or elder that can listen to your hurt and sense of abandonment without judgement.
- Allow yourself to feel and struggle with life’s biggest questions and desire for meaning. It’s part of the grief process to struggle with the “Why now? What’s next?” questions. You may be able to find answers for some of these but not all. This is part of the sea of confusion we pass through as we find new outlooks. Many people’s suggestions or attempts to help are not adequate, don’t fit, or aren’t helpful. Let them go and listen to your own heart and nature as you find your way to a new balance.
- Treasure your memories, share them with others, and find solace in them. They will help keep your heart open. Allow all the memories to filter through you; even the challenging ones may hold some gold that can take you to a new place of understanding and even forgiveness.
- Give yourself time to grieve. It takes longer than we hope or expect. Grief is a process not an event. Be as kind, patient, and as tolerant as you can with yourself. Keep company with those that let you have the time and space you need because the death of someone you loved changes you forever.