It’s not something we talk about but probably should. After all, the only guarantee we have in life is that we will eventually die. But according to Lucia Wocial, project director for the “Before I Die” Festival, death is something we should all discuss with our families and loved ones.
The festival was first done in England, organized by Jenny Kitzinger, a professor at the University of York whose sister sustained tremendous injuries following a car accident. The laws in England made it difficult for the family to make decisions on the sister’s behalf.
“She thought everyone should have these conversations before things come up so she created the idea of the Before I Die festival,” says Wocial. “She came up with a creative way to generate discussion around something that none of us want to talk about.”
So why is it so hard for us to talk about death?
“The good news is that modern medicine has allowed us to survive many things that years ago we would have never survived,” says Wocial. “Everybody loves a miracle story. Everybody wants to believe that they are going to be ‘the one’ [who receives that miracle].”
Our society is often identified in literature as a “death-denying” culture — we know it’s going to happen, but we pretend that it’s not going to happen to us. Or even worse, we assume (individually) that we will die an easy happy death — a death where we die quickly without pain or suffering at home in bed. Unfortunately, very few of us die with that fairytale ending.
“Death has been removed from people’s everyday lives,” says Wocial. “If you look 100 years ago, people died at home all the time.”
Death at home was the norm and families accepted it as a part of life. Now, modern medicine keeps us alive longer and chronic illness and disease sends us to the hospital where death occurs more often than we realize.
Wocial is a nurse ethicist and teaches applied ethics through the Indiana University School of Nursing. She says too often people are faced with making death-related decisions for family members and have no idea what that family member would want. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers can give medical advice and references, but that only reaches so far. Without previous discussion, family members are left to guess about what to do. One of the festival events includes a workshop where people can learn who has the consent to make decisions on someone else’s behalf in the state of Indiana. The workshop, titled, “What do you mean I cannot consent for my grandmother’s medical care?” is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation.
The festival itself includes a series of events — from art exhibits to workshops — centered around the topic of death. Some are informational, some are merely for expression and some are simply avenues to start a conversation. Ultimately, Wocial hopes every event will inspire people to talk about death to their friends and families.
“Not talking about it is not going to help you,” says Wocial. “It’s going to happen.”
How Did I Die?
Friday, April 15, 1:30 p.m.
Archeologists, genealogists, and historians from the Indiana Historical Society will help interpret historical records of Hoosier ancestors. Presenters will decipher information on death certificates such as cause of death, location and other information.
Indiana State Library Author Room (2nd floor), 315 W. Ohio St., $5-$7 or free for students, tickets.indianahistory.org
Let’s Talk About Death: Faith Leaders & End-of-Life Dialogue
Friday, April 15, 10:30 a.m. Author and minister Bishop Gwendolyn Coates will lead a discussion with clergy from a variety of faith traditions about the cultural and spiritual barriers families face when making end-of-life decisions. Coates is the author of Waiting for my Lunch Date: A Journey Through Grief and a Path to Joy.
The panel will discuss issues such as healthcare, medical treatment and funeral arrangement decisions.
Light of the World Christian Church, 4646 Michigan Road
Facing Our Mortality, Embracing Our Life
Friday, April 15, 10 a.m. Sage-ing International leaders will lead a workshop on the inevitability of death. Participants will explore strategies for making death a personal, energizing experience.
Fellowship Hall at Bethlehem Lutheran Church; 526 East 52nd St.
Ask an Expert
Friday, April 15, Noon. “Ask an Expert” is a collaborative learning project that recognizes that everybody is an expert — and that we all have something to learn from each other through thoughtful conversation. Death and death-related issues will be the focus of the conversation.
Calvin Fletcher Coffee Company, 647 Virginia Ave.
Movie and Merlot
Friday, April 15, 7 p.m. IU Health will host a viewing of the documentary “Being Mortal,” which explores the relationships doctors develop with patients who are nearing the end of life. Wine and appetizers will also be available. Following the film members of the palliative care team at IU Health Methodist hospital will host a conversation about the film. RSVPs requested at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Little Red Door Cancer Agency, 1801 N. Meridian Street
Saturday, April 16, 10 a.m. Dr. Jason Eberl, Semler Endowed Chair for Medical Ethics & professor of philosophy at Marian University, will facilitate a discussion focused on the ethical principles that inform Catholic teachings on end-of-life care as well as the value of organ donation and the disposition of one’s body after death.
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, 4600 N. Illinois St.
Saturday, April 16, noon. The exhibit features 61 pairs of boots representing young Hoosiers who never came back from war.
Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, 340 N. Senate Ave.
Pop-Up Book Discussion
Saturday, April 16, 2:30 p.m. The Indianapolis Public Library will host a “pop-up” book discussion of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. A book discussion leader will navigate Doughty’s demystification of the macabre view of death. Funeral director and volunteer with the Green Burial Council, Samuel Perry, will also join the conversation.
Indianapolis Museum of Art (Café), 4000 Michigan Road
IMA Gallery Talk: Vitality & Mortality in Art: An Exploration of Life’s Brevity and Fragility
Saturday and Sunday, April 16 and 17, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. The Indianapolis Museum of Art will host a one-hour facilitated gallery conversation to explore the delights of the earthly life and reminders of its transience. The conversation will explore the joys in life and the reminder to live each day to its fullest — with a little bit of seventeenth century warnings about worldly vanity and temperance. Each tour is limited to 20 participants. Free conversation included in the price of museum admission.
Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 Michigan Road
No One Dies Alone
Saturday, April 16, 1 p.m. Volunteers from No One Dies Alone (NODA), a volunteer-centered program with the goal of providing companionship and support for dying individuals so that no patient dies alone, will discuss what they have learned from sitting with dying patients.
Rapp Family Conference Center, Ezkenazi Health Outpatient Center, 720 Eskenazi Ave.
An Atheist Faces Death
Saturday, April 16, 2 p.m. The executive director for the Center for Inquiry-Indiana, Reba Boyd, will lead an informal discussion about Atheist perceptions on death.
Center for Inquiry – Indiana, 350 Canal Walk
Health Care Rep Form Assistance
Saturday, April 16, 4 p.m. The Eskenazi Health Palliative Care Team will offer an opportunity for the community to complete a health care representative form with one of its staff members. The form designates who can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated.
Rapp Family Conference Center, Ezkenazi Health Outpatient Center, 720 Eskenazi Ave.
Before I Die Cemetery Walking Tour
Sunday, April 17, 3 p.m. The "Before I Die" tour will feature some of the inspirational individuals buried at Crown Hill who have contributed to society in significant ways. Tour participants will also be able to visit the "Before I Die" wall — a participatory public art project that invites people to contemplate death and reflect on life.
Crown Hill Cemetery, Gothic Gate, 3400 Boulevard Place
“What do you mean I cannot consent for my grandmother’s medical care?”
Sunday, April 17, 3 p.m. A lecture by Dr. Amber Comer will provide specifics on who can make health care decisions if you are unable. Indiana’s law may surprise you! Coffee and refreshments will be served following Dr. Comer’s talk.
Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, 6501 N. Meridian St.
Planning a Nonreligious Memorial Service
Sunday, April 17, 4 p.m. The Center for Inquiry will host a discussion on writing a nonreligious memorial service for personal use as well as conducting one for others.
Center for Inquiry – Indiana, 350 Canal Walk.
Serving Life documentary
Sunday, April 17, 7 p.m. Marian University will host a viewing of Serving Life, which documents an extraordinary hospice program where hardened criminals care for dying fellow inmates inside Louisiana's maximum security prison.
College of Osteopathic Medicine at Marian University, 3200 Cold Spring Road; EC 150