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This NH club meets to talk about death and dying

Laura Cleminson
courtesy photo
Laura Cleminson founded the Pre-Dead Social Club.

Many of us find it difficult to talk about death and dying. Laura Cleminson, an end-of-life doula from Portsmouth, is trying to change that through an initiative she’s calling the Pre-Dead Social Club.

NHPR's Morning Edition host Rick Ganley recently spoke with Cleminson about how to have these kinds of conversations.

Transcript

I want to first start with your experience. What inspired you to create a club where people talk about death?

It kind of goes back about eight years when my mom was dying of ovarian cancer. I quickly discovered that my mom, my dad, and my sister and I all approached death completely differently. Where I was comfortable talking to my mom, my dad and my sister, it wasn't easy for them to have these conversations.

And as the years went past after my mom died, nothing was really budging. Then I'm thinking, is my family unique? Where do people go to actually have conversations to sort through it, whether you're dying, or somebody you loved has died or you're just contemplating your own mortality? I didn't find there was anything that existed outside of being educated for hospice or being a death doula.

So on a whim, I said, I wonder if there's other people like me out there that want to have conversations, not when they're in the thick of things. So I created the Pre-Dead Social Club.

And you started a series of events in the club called Death Over Drinks. What are these events like?

We typically attract around 30 people a month, age

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[range] from 30 to 90, with the goal to have multi generations around at the table. And we kick it off by starting with an icebreaker question, and I don't really try to force it. If people are curious, that's half the battle — a little bit of a page of the playbook of hospice, you meet people where they're at. So I let people know you don't have to participate if you just want to come and check us out and just observe.

So, besides getting rid of the taboo nature of it, what kind of end of life conversations do you think people should be having more of?

I think there's two kinds of conversations. The internal conversation, that one has with ourselves, is that if I had a year to live, what would I be shifting and changing? And shouldn't I be doing that stuff now? So when I come to that end, I'm not fighting it tooth and nail because I haven't lived my life the way I want to. So that's that internal conversation that makes us ready when we eventually get there as best we can.

The external conversation is the people that are closest to you know what's important to you — if they have to advocate for you.

I think it's a great gift that you can give to your loved ones, for them to understand that, to know what your wishes are and to understand what their wishes are too.

Honestly, I told my dad, I said I started a club because of you and he laughed and he goes, you're welcome. I don't think he totally understood. It's like you have been so hard for me to get through that I'm really trying so desperately to figure out how do we talk to the folks that just can't right at the moment? And I learned, I just share what's important to me instead of asking him questions. I'm just sharing what's important to me at end of life. And eventually, like he now mails me articles about hospice, and I was like, oh, you are cracking the door open for me. We are making progress.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Jackie Harris is the Morning Edition Producer at NHPR. She first joined NHPR in 2021 as the Morning Edition Fellow.

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