Living While Dying

Twin Cities Public Television produced a half-hour show, now available online, called “Honoring Choices: Health & Faith in Minnesota,” which offered a glimpse of communities around Minnesota — including St. Cloud, Hibbing, and Coon Rapids — talking about the changing rituals around dying.

Rev. Gloria Roach Thomas, retired minister of Camphor United Methodist Church in St. Paul, was featured in the show, talking about the ritual growing up in the south in which elaborate seating in special rented vehicles was arranged for family funerals.

Today, in a culture that does not like to talk about death, Thomas reports that our tendency is to keep terminal illnesses and pending death a secret from others. Many feel like a burden, like they are no longer a productive members of society, especially those with families that live distances apart, and when treatment and medications are expensive.

When her husband was dying a few years ago, Thomas says, for several months friends and family would come over and have a meal, and private conversations with him. “He was not afraid to say he was dying.”

It was hard for Thomas, as a ministerial leader in her community, to continue to play that role while her husband was dying of a rare cancer. “When we can help people talk about death, that’s important, so people don’t feel so alone. How can we talk about death so people don’t feel so afraid?”

Cathy Wurzer of Minnesota Public Radio, began to assemble "The Convenings" around the state in 2016 to help prompt these conversations. End in Mind is now a related non-profit focused on end-of-life planning and discussions.


How Lincoln Impacted Funerals

If you died 200 years ago, your family and friends would say farewell in your home before your body would be placed in a pine casket built by a local carpenter. There would be no preservatives.

This changed during the U.S. Civil War, when dead soldiers were filled with chemicals to send them home, in an era before refrigeration. President Abraham Lincoln requested this service for his deceased 11-year-old son in 1862. After Lincoln was assassinated, the same service was performed. His body was visible and put on a funeral train to his burial place in Illinois. The practice of embalming became more common, requiring professionals rather than family and friends to be involved.

Source: The Conversation, “How Lincoln’s Embrace of Embalming Birthed the American Funeral Industry,” October 2017

Seeking to Avoid the End

The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre has produced the annual MayDay Parade and Festival for 45 years. The Minneapolis-based non-profit arts organization is actively seeking individual support, diverse partners, and sponsorships in order to continue the festival after 2019. The event has a $200,000 budget, for supplies, permits, clean-up, management, printing, security, and other expenses. It is seeking online contributions from the estimated 60,000 individuals who attend the popular festival. This year’s event is May 5.


Hospice Care Growing in Minnesota

Minnesota’s hospice care population — offered to those in the last six months of life, often to enable them to die at home
has tripled since 2000.

According to Nancy Larson, of Our Lady of Peace hospice in St. Paul, a generation ago doctors didn’t like to talk about the possibility that their patients might die. “Sometimes the family decided not to tell people with a terminal disease,” she said. “They didn’t want them to give up.”
Hospitals were focused on prolonging life by all means. “At times you were fighting against what the body wanted to do,” said Lindsey Pelletier, a hospice nurse who used to work in intensive- care units. “At times, you were doing something unnatural.”

Said Susan Marschalk, executive director of the Minnesota Network of Hospice and Palliative Care, 22 percent of the nation’s medical costs are incurred in the last six months of life.

Source:, “Changing How We Die,” December 30, 2018