Photo blog: Before I Die recap

Spirit & Place was honored to work with the IU School of Nursing this past weekend on Indy’s — and America’s! — first Before I Die Festival. Thanks again to Bishop Gwendolyn Phillips Coates for leading faith leaders through a day of reflection and skill-building on how to create courageous conversations with their congregants and to Light of the World Christian Church for their generosity in hosting the event!

Bishop Gwendolyn Phillips Coates is the author of Waiting for my Lunch Date: A Journey Through Grief and a Path to Joy and pastor of God Answers Prayers Ministries in South Los Angeles.

Bishop Gwendolyn Phillips Coates is the author of Waiting for my Lunch Date: A Journey Through Grief and a Path to Joy and pastor of God Answers Prayers Ministries in South Los Angeles.


Photo cred: Facebook – Jennifer Vines

















The weekend was packed with even more events, including the Crown Hill Cemetery Before I Die Wall walk. See the full list of events and partners here and check out more images from the weekend here.


Death, Dying, & Awkward Conversations

By Lucia Wocial, PhD, RN, FAAN

When I first started telling people about the idea of a Before I Die Festival (April 15—17), I invariably heard an incredulous, “A what???” often followed by, “Don’t you think you should change the name? That’s awkward!”

The topic is absolutely awkward. That is kind of the point. But by explaining our goal is to use what people find comfortable – art, literature, faith, and even food – to spark conversations about death, people start to warm to the idea. In fact, virtually everyone I speak to has a story to tell about death.

BID_LogoGerogioProFinalFew people are comfortable talking about death, even though all of our lives will be touched by it sooner or later. If the first conversation you have about what you want for end-of-life care is when you get bad news from your doctor, it is too late.

There are so many heartwarming stories about how people have beat cancer or survived some terrible accident. It is easy to trick ourselves into believing we don’t have to plan for death. Subconsciously we know we will die but our conscious mind does not want to go there. We believe we will be in control; we will be able to tell people what we want up until the very end.

Because I work in healthcare I know that the majority of people who are dying are too sick to tell us what they want.

If they haven’t had conversations with the important people in their lives, family is left to feel a terrific burden. The greatest gift we can give our families is to tell them exactly what matters most to us should we develop a terrible illness or learn we are dying. In my experience, there is a tremendous sense of peace when patients have shared with their friends and family what they want.

It is sad when people die. It doesn’t have to be traumatic.

Come to the festival and find out just how easy it can be to talk about death.

Lucia Wocial, PhD, RN, FAAN is a nurse ethicist with the Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics as well as an adjunct assistant professor with the IU School of Nursing. Her work with the RESPECT Center is focused on research in palliative and end-of-life communication and training.


Facing Death: A Prescription for Feeling Alive

People often ask me how I came to be interested in the topic of death. Depending on the context, there are a few explanations I may offer up: an excellent course on death and dying that I took during college; my husband’s career as a medical ethicist wherein conversations about death are considered normal dinnertime fodder; I may even tell the story of my days as a hospitalized newborn whose parents were told they should prepare for my imminent demise. Having dodged the grim reaper in my first weeks of life, I always imagined myself as someone who was here by accident, crashing the greatest party ever.

I heard about the Death Café movement via NPR, felt an immediate affinity for the concept, and hoped someone would start one locally. Six months later, feeling rather uninspired, I took a seat at a staff training session. Fighting against my laconic mood, I started chit-chatting with the co-workers at my table, all of whom were strangers to me. I honestly can’t recall how we veered into this territory but the woman to my left informed me she was getting ready to start a Death Café. Cue the proverbial jaw drop! In a city this large, how is it that the person willing to take the initiative to get this started just happens to be my co-worker? The shock was mutual, as I think the prior reactions she had received were of the “raised eyebrow” variety. I immediately offered to help, as it’s not every day fate places a kindred spirit in the chair right beside you.


As we embark on our third year of Death Café Indy, I can affirm that talking about death with strangers and friends has enhanced my worldview. Death Café’s aim is to “increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.” I now make choices as a direct result of saying to myself “What’s the worst thing that could happen? You could be dead tomorrow, so why not try?” Some were small risks (dancing on stage for the first time in over twenty years); others, more significant (leaving the security of my decade-plus job). For this mental paradigm-shift, I thank the indefatigable Monica Doyle, as well as every Death Café attendee who has helped me to close my mouth, open my ears, and learn.

Jennifer Vines is the Project Manager for the “Before I Die” festival, Monica Doyle’s sidekick in Death Café Indy, and a Florida State University philosophy alum.

Before I die . . .


I want to travel to Southeast Asia.

I want to know I’ve made a positive impact in my community.

I want to finally learn how to poach an egg properly.

Let’s be honest, if we’re going to think and talk about death, daydreaming about all the things we’d like to do be we die isn’t so rough and scary. Talking about wills, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, advance directives, hospice care, and other end-of-life topics can be rough and scary though.

Although difficult, these are important conversations and Spirit & Place is proud to partner with the IU School of Nursing for Indy’s first ever Before I Die Festival (April 15—17, 2016) as a way to spark dialogue around end-of-life care.

Modeled off of past events in Wales and England, Indy’s Before I Die Festival (the first one to occur in the United States), will feature book discussions, cemetery tours, genealogy workshops, art exhibits, death cafes, and more at locations across the city. A little bit like the Spirit & Place Festival itself, the Before I Die Festival taps into the creative and thoughtful power of several arts, humanities, and faith-based organizations to help us talk about our end-of-life wishes.

At Spirit & Place, we believe in the power of meaningful conversation and in the vital role the arts, humanities, and religion play in helping us make sense of the world and our place in it. This community is filled with talented, smart, and caring people who are eager to help us explore tough issues, including death and dying.

Learn more at the Before I Die website and Facebook page.

By Erin Kelleyerin