Walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death
I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Jon Underwood personally. I interviewed him a few years ago to learn about Death Cafe. Being in the process of founding a similar kind of venture, I sought like-minded others. I really wanted to hear their stories. Jon was one of them. I wanted to learn what it had been like for him to walk, quite literally, into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. He strode boldly and publicly into such conversations, complete with tea and cake, in 2011.
Death Cafe discussions now take place from Australia to Nigeria and every place in between. As of this writing, there have been 4836 Death Cafe discussions in 51 countries. And these are just the ones registered on the Death Cafe website.
What was it that motivated him? More importantly, why?
As I recall, he explained it something like this: the monsters in the closet are only scary until we shed light on them. Jon felt (and I do, too) that talking about Death in a very real and personal way ultimately makes those conversations less uncomfortable. More than that, something kind of amazing begins to take place: a deeper, more thoughtful appreciation for life in all its forms starts to develop. And then to flourish.
Dying Matters. A lot.
People say it’s too hard to talk about dying. Honestly, it’s easier than you think. Particularly if you or a loved one aren’t actually in the throes of doing it while trying to start the conversation.
Seniors frequently say to me they want to talk about it with their kids, but the kids don’t want to. Adult children often say to me they want to talk about it with their folks, but the folks don’t want to. When I hear this, I have to wonder whether either has actually tackled the subject with the other and who is really doing the avoiding!
I’m pretty certain that Jon Underwood did not imagine in 2011 that he would die in 2017 at the age of 44, leaving behind his wife, his children, and a world full of people who understand what he was trying to accomplish. And I’m also feeling certain that his having talked openly about dying hasn’t lessened the incredible shock his family currently experiences with this kind of a loss.
Talking About Dying Matters a Lot, Too
Here’s what I do know. He’s left behind a legacy of openness and authenticity that’s hard to argue with. He’s given his family, friends, and thousands of others across the globe a creative way to address the elephant in the living room. That means something. And that’s what life and death are: the meaning we make of it.
Here’s the bonus: Damariscotta Death Cafe has been meeting monthly for four years and is as lively and strong as ever. Join in the fun on the second Monday of each month at Savory Maine, 9:00am. No agenda. No taboos.
Here’s to you, Jon. I hope wherever you are now, there’s tea, cake, and heartfelt conversation.