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Evanston ‘Death Society’ Opens Door To End Of Life Conversations

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org 

Elder law attorney Jeffrey Story hopes to make conversation about death and dying much more common throughout Illinois.

Story envisions his “Death Society of Evanston, Illinois” as an educational outlet for all involved in end of life-decision making. He wants people of all ages and life stages to begin forming and sharing their end of life care wishes.

“People are trained from childhood to fear death,” Story told Life Matters Media. “People are encouraged to think positively all the time and never think negatively, but there is a new movement afoot. People want to talk more openly and frankly about death.”

The first gathering was held Thursday evening at Celtic Knot Public House bar and restaurant; it was neither morbid nor depressing. About a dozen attendees sipped wine and craft beers while discussing cremation, advance health care directives and deceased relatives.

Attorney Jeffrey Story
Attorney Jeffrey Story leads discussion about end of life planning

The 60-year-old attorney was inspired by the recent deaths of his parents to begin practicing elder law and become an “end of life advocate.” He said his mother did not have a “good” death because she never made her end of life care wishes known to family. She died suddenly in 2013 after being admitted to the emergency department and connected to a ventilator.

“My mother, I felt bad for her,” he said. “Death tends to change how you view things and how you talk about it. You need to be informed about what people want. My mother didn’t do that, and it was too late.”

Carrie Jackson, an Evanston-based author and caregiver, said she is happy to finally have a local outlet for serious discussion about mortality. Her father, Henry George Jackson Jr. died in 2012, after nearly three years in hospice care.

“It’s an efficient and relaxing environment,” Jackson said. “People are enjoying themselves and asking questions that they don’t usually ask. It’s also a great venue.”

Five more gatherings are scheduled with guest speakers. They will take place the first Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. in the restaurant.

Nov. 5: Jim Matson, Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago

Jan. 7: Dr. Julie Goldstein, Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatments

Feb. 4: Randi Belisomo and Dr. Mary F. Mulcahy, Life Matters Media

March 3: Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter

April 7: Nancy Flowers, Chicago End-of-Life Care Coalition

Attendees talk about death and dying
Attendees talk about death and dying

Story based the concept on “Death Café,” a movement that started in Europe and spreading throughout the Midwest. They are designed to increase awareness of death over coffee and cake.

“I think the reason ‘Death Cafés’ are becoming so popular is because baby boomers want control,” said gerontologist and co-organizer Stacey Foisy. “Facing death is scary, but boomers want to talk about it in a community.”

To register for an event, call 847-328-7552