In-the-Life Training

Jennifer sits with her back turned and is in silhouette looking over a beautiful sun setting on a lake

Jennifer Davis, Founder, Playing With Sparks

01 June 2018

You have no doubt heard of “on-the-job” training. But when your calling involves helping other deal with death, it’s not the kind of experience you actually want to get. But thanks to my dad – I am.

I have somewhat gently introduced my own family to my passion for thinking and talking about death. I’ve had them play the Exit Matters game back when it was still my hand-drawn prototype made with foam board and sticky notes. My dad edited the cards that come with the game and they have a copy of the When Ick Met Spark book out on their coffee table. Nothing too scary or dramatic.

“Transitioning from life to death as we age is really a bridge from the tangible-ness of this world to the intangible of the next…”

But things have started to shift, as my dad is going through his own dying process and I’m realizing first-hand the spectrum of emotions that comes with witnessing someone you love dying. I was just arriving at my first day of “Funeral Celebrant” training when I got the text that my dad had been in the hospital with heart issues. When I checked in with him at the end of the day and told him where I was, he said “Hey, maybe you can do my memorial service.” And as things are progressing, the very first service I have helped to craft is my dad’s.

It was both agonizing and gratifying to be able to use my Exit Matters Menu to open up the conversation about what he wants and what matters to him. Part of me was screaming “how can you be talking about what to do with his dead body” and part of me was actually very calm and invested in finding out what he wanted to happen after he was gone.

A moody view of a bridge as if you are standing on this end and about to cross over the water to the other side ahead of you


Photography via Unsplash

All of me wants to honour his life on this planet and his role in our lives. Transitioning from life to death as we age is really a bridge from the tangible-ness of this world to the intangible of the next, so of course the emotions that come with that huge shift, or at least for those like my mom and my sisters, left in this tangible world, also span a really wide range.

The really neat thing was that we were able to refer to some of the things he had shared the year before during the playing of Exit Matters. I got a real sense of not just his values (things like nature and family) but also when he thinks he might have had enough of this life. Everyone has a different line or perspective on that, and when my dad shared his it made perfect sense. For him, being confined to a bed would take him back over 60 years to when he was stuck inside a sanatorium for 16 months, confined to a bed, being treated for tuberculous before there really was any treatment but bed rest. Hearing him tell that story hit home. I wouldn’t want him to have to relive that either.

As I write this my dad is still a phone call away, and I am grateful for each time he can answer the phone and talk, even if briefly. He was always a man of few words. But his willingness to talk with me about his dying process not just gives me on-the-job experience in this field, but gives me a beautiful, grace-filled role model for when it’s my turn to dance with my death.

Mixed Messages

Mixed Messages

I am starting to hear more and more that people don’t want a funeral they want a celebration of life, and they don’t want anyone to be sad at their event, they want them to feel happy and to feel more like a party.

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