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Don’t fear the reaper: Death Cafe returns to Grand Forks’ library

Regular discussion group talks experiences, wills, legal rights

An open discussion group on death and preparing final wishes is returning to Grand Forks as a way for people to network, share experiences and even offer comfort to those who need it.

The Death Cafe had its first meeting in three years at the Grand Forks Public Library on Saturday afternoon, with the door open to anyone who wanted to have an open discussion about anything related to end of life preparation.

The meetings stopped due to COVID restrictions on gatherings.

About nine people sat down to talk about anything death-related, from personal experiences, to hospice care, chronic illness management, do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders, wills, medically-assisted dying (MAiD) and choosing medical proxy’s.

“We all have a fear of death, so we talk about it here,” said Jennifer Mallmes, community program coordinator at the library and end-of-life doula. “It may seem morose, but people, especially the people I work with in hospice, find these (discussions) comforting because they can talk openly.”

While it’s normal to fear death, several who attended said their own near death experiences and experiences of others have all been relatively painless and peaceful. David Milton, 85, related when he blacked out and nearly drowned in a community pool 12 years ago.

He found himself staring up at the lights having what he described as feelings of peace and quietly slipping away.

“I was just staring at the lights and the feeling of fading and thinking this is so lovely, I wasn’t afraid,” he said. “A doctor told me later that it’s from the lack of oxygen to the brain giving me feelings of euphoria.”

Two ladies who saw him floating, jumped in to help and he was rushed to hospital, he said.

His story of peaceful feelings during a near death experience is very common, Mallmes said. Unless it’s trauma, the majority of deaths are quiet and quick, with the body shutting down and those who report a near-death experience also reporting being happy and often not wanting to return to the living.

With that in mind, several attendees wanted to find out more about taking control of how they leave this world. Discussions swirled around advance care plans and DNR orders. Christine Brooks, office manager and volunteer co-ordinator at Boundary Hospice explained those need to be in writing so it’s known what the plan is, especially a DNR because legally medical professionals have to keep trying to revive someone until a physician determines they are beyond saving.

That can be traumatic for the person and their loved ones, she said, as the processes are highly invasive and she’s heard from many that do not want to suffer any further if their vital signs cease.

Another aspect of taking control is MAiD, where a person decides when they want a doctor to help them die. This is offered at Boundary Regional Hospital.

This has been a great help for many, she said because it allows a person sole decision making over when they die, but there are caveats.

“It’s great the government signed this into law, but sometimes it can be difficult to determine factors like the exact day and a person has to be of sound mind when they make the decision,” she said. “Also when a person is thinking about this, the amount of pain they are in and how much, or little, hope there is of improvement should be factored in.”

Previous cafes have proven to be enjoyable and informative, Brooks said. The long-term goal for the Death Cafe is to have one every six weeks going forward.

About the Author: Karen McKinley

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