“Are you ready to play with the concept of Death, Dying & Are You Living?” This was the kick off question to Filament’s March-themed mindshine. “It sounds like a great game of bar dice! Let’s do it,” our guests replied. Despite the light-heartedness, the topic was a tough one. How could it it not be? Read on to hear our sentiments.
“I’m afraid of death – not for me – but for those I love,”shared Tiffany Herrera, a born and bred Milwaukeean who is passionate about service, equality, and reshaping our community. “I’ve had so many deaths in life…and I still feel guilt and pain years later. My brother, who died 20 years ago, I worshipped him. When I lost him I pushed away my need for a sibling.”
Tiffany recently reached out to her sister on International Woman’s Day. “I watch the women in my life with their sisters and I want that…I’m jealous of their connection…and I told my sister that.” Despite the emotional and physical distance between them, they are making an effort to touch base monthly and rebuild their sistership.
Even though Tiffany, like many, fears the loss of her loved ones, she also recognizes that death has helped shape her. “Death is a part of why I actively try to make my living and other people’s living better. ”
Jessi Gonzalez-Moore, Store Manager for Good Will, who’s hopeful that Coachella is in her cards for the afterlife, stated that she is not afraid to die. “It’s weird because I think about death daily. When I’m driving – when I’m walking – when I’m watching the news – could that be me?”
Jessi, who battled breast cancer for 10-year-ago, added, “I’m mostly afraid of dying because of the ones I love – I am afraid of their sadness. I know it sounds narcissistic, but I’m concerned for them. That’s why the ones who love me better make sure that there is a good time happening after I die. That it’s one big party.”
When asked if cancer had changed her perspective on life, Jessi replied, “I’ve always tried to live my life to the fullest and be a really good person. You do go into survival mode – but I always felt that people had it much worse than me…”
“Everything is that is going on in our lives is all relative,” Florence Parnegg, Final Hours Volunteer for a local non-profit, consoled Jessi.
Florence admitted that she had years of life experiences similar to ours, and at this time in her life, found that death can be truly beautiful. “God is there when someone dies,” she stated. “You feel the energy in the room.”
Florence also believes that we are forever evolving in this life and into the next. “I recently went to a workshop on death & dying and the speaker had written a book with Elizabeth Kubler Ross on compassion & choices. I believe in this.” Florence went on to share that they’d asked a group of people – who knew they were terminal and didn’t have the option of compassion & choices – if, when looking back upon being diagnosed would have chosen to die earlier, to avoid the pain, the inevitable. “They said, ‘no.’ And it was because of all the people they’d met, the things they’d learned, the goodbyes they’d given. I, too, need to live through the dying experience so I can evolve.”
“In part, many things that formed me stemmed from death,” stated Kelly Andrew, Chief Ideas Officer and Founder of Filament. “After the deaths of my grandparents my senior year in college, I moved to Arizona, determined to get a job in hospice.” While her experiences serving the dying were profound, it was the death of a friend that brought her back to Wisconsin.
“I kept thinking about the progression of life, of family, friends, those I needed to be there for. Returning home was a loving choice, but it also feels fearful – in the sense that I feared I was going to miss something or wouldn’t be there when someone needed me.”
These days, Kelly chooses to be there for loved ones out of love. “Death has been extremely integral in my life, on the path I live. It’s a path of love rather than fear. I think I can serve others better because of it.”
Katy Corey, Filament’s Director of Collaboration, spoke about the life lessons taught from her dear friend Bette. “We clashed, in the beginning. She was 58. I was 23. We were both loud. She was the closest Peace Corps volunteer to me, initially by proximity, but then in life.”
A decade after serving in Guatemala, Bette passed away. “I just wanted to call her and let her know that she died. She did visit me twice in dreams. And, while I know I am the director of my own dreams, I was able to hear from her what I needed to hear. It felt so real.” “It was real. She came to visit you,” Florence smiled.
“Bette was not the person I would have chosen to be a part of my life, but she gave me the ability to accept myself on so many levels and challenged me to dig deep. She is part of the reason I am who I am today. I was so fortunate to meet her.”
Pam Foti, Co-Owner & Senior Care Consultant of Vesta Senior Network, who is also a breast cancer survivor, opened with: “I’m terrified of dying, but I do realize its going to happen. I get that I can’t get out of here alive and I’m trying to understand it more. It helps me to think about where there is goodness – where I can bring goodness – that matters to me.”
Facing the idea of death has inspired Pam to be present in everything she does. “I’m afraid of heights, so I jumped out of a plane. I’m afraid of death, so I volunteer in hospice as a Eucharistic Minister. For me, it’s important that I face my fears.”
Across the table, these hard, honest conversations intilled a sense of urgency to live life with more compassion, more zeal. To appreciate being human. To appreciate one another. We thank our guests for their courage in sharing their personal stories and taking time to mindshine.
In closing, mindshine continues to evolve. What started as a desire to network differently – to connect without phones and on a real level – is shaping into new, beautiful friendships with a collective desire to reunite and give back to our community. We plan to bring all of our mindshine guests back for our one year anniversary in September. Until then, we’re hosting another round of dinner, drinks, and disscussion on the topic of fostering this evening, so stay tuned!