Encouraging the conversation

In October 2016, we hosted our annual public education series, Dying Dialogues, in collaboration with Tulsa City County Library, Phillips Theological Seminary and Arts Alliance Tulsa. Our four organizations came together to promote the hard conversations we all need to have.

“This year’s series focused on an interactive public art project, the “Before I Die…” wall, and three presentations that encouraged conversations about deeper experiences of life. Clarehouse and partners gave participants the information and tools to prepare for end-of-life issues.” described Jennifer Greb, Central Library Assistant Manager, Adult Services.  “160 people attended over the course of the series, and approximately 1,500 people added their hopes and dreams to the wall, engaging in Central Library’s first major interactive community art piece.”

The “Before I Die…” wall is simply a chalkboard with the words “Before I die I want to  ____.” stenciled over and over. People need no explanation – they approach the wall, absorb it, and contribute. People of all ages read, ponder, reflect, and write about their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Their words are serious and silly, inspirational and inane, sad and joyous. The library staff described the wall as a magnet, drawing people to it to share their thoughts and soak up the thoughts of others. It is art and conversation at the same time. Special thanks to Pat Annan and Oklahoma Technical College for building the wall!

The series continued with an evening of vignettes entitled “Death Over Dinner”. The contrasting vignettes featured an unprepared family in chaos over the terminal diagnosis of a beloved father and an alternate view of the same family with the benefit of planned discussion and preparation. This moving performance was provided by “Get Real Drama” – Nick Bushta, Karyn Maio, Marla Taylor, Ruth Seefeldt and Meg Hayhurst.

“We had all experienced a loss in our personal lives and we drew on that as we became the people in the family. Then, we had the blessing of portraying the same family as they went thru the experience of pre-planning,” Marla Taylor explained. “Some of us had done parts of this, but none of us had done all of it before. We all learned something new – We learned the importance of gathering the family to discuss things that aren’t easy to talk about. We learned that it’s easier and less emotional to discuss things if it’s done before the crisis hits. We learned that it’s about making sure a person’s desires are known and then respected and carried out – even if we don’t agree, or it’s hard to do.”

In the final night of the series, we provided attendees with a toolkit; a custom-built binder to get organized and to learn strategies and techniques for becoming your own care manager. We are deeply grateful to Betsy Geheb, who shared her personal journey as caregiver to her beloved mother, Dorothy MacDonald. Together, Dorothy and Betsy created a notebook to support Dorothy’s self-advocacy of her choices and values during her illness, decline and death. Many of the documents in the toolkit came from her personal experience. This project became legacy work on behalf of Dorothy, who wanted this vision of managing her own care to be shared with others.

The wall is mobile, built to travel around our community giving rise to public discussion. If you would like to host the wall, contact Amy, Education Director at abailey@clarehouse.org. The “Get Real Drama” Group is willing to perform the vignettes in other venues. The toolkits are available for free at Clarehouse. Again, contact Amy. Reach out and make that first step—it’s one of the most important conversations you’ll ever have.