Consider this question: What adventures or journeys have you not yet taken that you wish to take? In other words, what’s on your bucket list? Now think about this question again, but imagine you have one year to live. Or one month. Or one week.

This may strike you as a daunting exercise. For many of us, it’s uncomfortable to reflect on death and dying, let alone to share our thoughts on the topic. But it’s questions like these that Compassionate Ottawa asks, gently and with empathy, to encourage participants to engage with end of life issues.

And this question was posed to participants of the recent “Die-alogue” that Compassionate Ottawa co-hosted with PAL Ottawa on May 29th.

Compassionate Ottawa is an emerging grass-roots initiative, working to make our community more compassionate around end of life issues and to connect those in need with resources for palliative care services.

In addition, Compassionate Ottawa aims to create a community in which “conversations about death and dying [are] not relegated to quiet corners, but [are] instead expressed openly in the public sphere,” as Jim Nininger, co-coordinator of the group, told the Ottawa Citizen earlier this year.

It’s in this context – opening the conversation about death and dying – that the May 29th “Die-alogue” took place. The free event was held at Jericho restaurant in the Glebe (840 Bank St), and 27 participants attended. The discussion was facilitated by Nadine Volk, Executive Director, Champlain Hospice Palliative Care Program, and Pam Grassau, Research Associate, Palliative Care Education and Research Group, Bruyère Research Institute.

Titled Bucket Lists: Living Your Life to the Fullest, the event alternated large and small group discussions with individual reflection exercises. Participants sat at tables in groups of 4 or 5, and on each table there sat a small bucket filled with questions participants could draw on if ever the conversation came to a standstill.

The event centered on three questions including the one above, as well as, “What conversations that you haven’t had do you need to have?” and “What scares you?” Each participant was invited to consider each question within three timeframes: one year to life, one month to life, one week to live.

As a follow-up, participants then were asked to consider how they felt doing the exercise, and what threads they noticed running through their answers. And finally, they were asked, “What is the one thing you can institute in your life now?” This was reminiscent of a conversation between Charlie Brown and his dog: “Some day we will all die, Snoopy,” says Charlie Brown. But Snoopy replies, “True but on all the other days we will not.”

Michael Namer, who coordinated the event, appreciated the atmosphere created by the facilitators: “Any reticence we may have felt before our attendance at a “Die-alogue” was quickly dispelled by the warm, safe ambiance.” Contributing to this warmth was a delicious buffet prepared by Raouf Omar, owner of Jericho.

At the end of the proceedings, participants interested in hosting their own “Die-alogue” were invited to partner with each other or with Compassionate Ottawa. It’s through these grassroots sessions that Compassionate Ottawa seeks to spread knowledge and compassion about death and dying, giving our community the space and the tools to reflect about, to talk about, and to make decisions about end of life issues.

Finally, each participant was invited to take home a small rock from their table’s bucket – in remembrance of the evening’s reflections, and of course, their personal bucket list.

Michael Namer and Julie Hodgson on the gathering  co-host  PAL Ottawa Supporting Cast and Compassionate Ottawa at Jericho Restaurant/Cafe on May 29, 2017