What would it look like to befriend death?
That was the question presented to a circle of women on at the first session of a series of workshops sponsored by RCWMS on January 18th. Titled “Befriending Death,” the series seeks to explore how we may spiritually, mentally, and emotionally grapple with the realities of death – our own, and others’.
Led by Anita McLeod, Betsy Barton, Stacy Grove, and Jocelyn Streid, the group met in the warm and sunny living room of a private home in Durham. This past Sunday, twenty women gathered together over tea and treats. The workshop opened with the lighting of a candle and a reminder that when women circle around a fire, they participate in a centuries-long tradition of wisdom-gathering. At the beginning Stacy Grove centered the group with a simple flute melody, and Anita McLeod asked participants to honor the community they formed—by maintaining confidentiality and withholding advice and judgment, each member would contribute to the creation of a safe space.
Over the next three hours, participants shared their own experiences of illness and mourning, fear and acceptance. The afternoon included poetry-reading, silent meditation, journaling, and conversation. In small groups and as a whole, the women discussed how previous encounters with loss shaped their perception of death and how they hoped the workshop might allow them to reimagine their relationship to this final transition. Several spoke of how personifying death as a female figure offers a new way of thinking, and explored the use of the term “Sister Death.”
As one leader explained, “You can’t befriend what you can’t imagine.” As such, the group engaged in an activity that had originally been conceived by RCWMS board member Jehanne Gheith for a class she taught at Duke University. Participants took a few minutes to sketch their ideal death, thinking about where they would be, who would be there, and how they might feel. The session ended with a communal reflection on the truths, questions, and challenges the women had encountered during the afternoon.
Participants lingered after the closing of the workshop, chatting with old friends and exchanging contact information with new ones. They will convene again in a few weeks to continue the conversation. Good things take time, it seems; befriending death isn’t just about facing it—it’s also about learning how to be in relationship with it.
Jocelyn Streid is a graduate of Duke University and an intern at RCWMS.