I’m thinking about dying – part 6 – Stephen Jenkinson, Caitlin Doughty & Zenith Virago

Stephen-Jenkinson-MTS-MSW-Founder-of-The-Orphan-Wisdom-SchoolJeremy George my husband first introduced me to death cafes a few years ago after i attempted to ‘run’ but instead ‘crawled’ a Joseph Campbell Roundtable.

During The Delightful Festival of Body & Sound i advertised a death cafe not knowing how i was truly going to deliver it, or rather who was truly going to deliver it.

And out of the wood-work came Carole Spice and Grace McGregor who were in the process of founding Tauranga Death Cafe, a monthly meeting at Grindz Cafe where people eat, drink and talk about all things death, dying and the dead.

As the mystery of life unfolds we three women went on to learn Sacred Songs with Wendy Joely who so generously and kindly lent the festival a Swedish Tipi. Through our Saturday mornings of song and grace we all became closer friends, and it was through Carole that Stephen Jenkinson visited and gave performance and workshop to Aotearoa within his Oceania Tour.

Stephen hails from Canada, where he runs a school (encouraged by his wife) called Orphan Wisdom. He somehow reminded me of a cross between Robin Williams, a kind cowboy, a brilliant scholarly professor and a Sagamore or Sachem. He is funny, he is poetic, he is a puzzle-maker, a man of mystery, he is humble, he is kindly fierce, he is learned, he is inspiration.

I have spent the day encouraging friends of friends in Australia to go to his show, and his workshop.I’m not sure it’s helpful to try summarising the day-short workshop with this man. I can say we listened to stories and ambled through suggestions on death, language and its power and meaning, the vitality of practicing grief, the art of talking with the dying and that death is coming for us (when we do not know) but she’s coming…

I bought his tome of a book Die Wise – A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul, which has a chapter entitled ‘Kids’ which i’ll read before bed tonight.

He features in a Canadian documentary called: Griefwalker

He has a school in Ontario Canada called Orphan Wisdom. Here a student (and Stephen) commit to 5 day workshops, twice a year, for 2 years. He has a course offered in Wales and (‘most likely’ it says on his website) Iceland. So there’s another reason to visit Iceland, or Wales the home of The Do Lectures.

Husband and i also listened in bed one night to this Radio NZ interview with Caitlin Doughty recorded at Christchurch WORD writer’s festival.


qq_morticianqa_fRadio NZ says: “USA writer Caitlin Doughty is a mortician who is keen to talk about how death can be a positive experience for the bereaved. Providing a fresh perspective on a topic made famous by Jessica Mitford over 50 years ago, Doughty wants us to re-evaluate our attitude to what happens when a life is at its end. The author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematorium, which charts her early years in the funeral business, talks to Christchurch coroner Marcus Elliott.”

I was curious to discover this bullet-pointed list within Doughty’s Death Positive Page on her website: The Order of the Good Death.


Whether you have participated in the death positive movement for years, or are brand new to us, we wanted to offer you a way to boldly state your intentions and participation.
  1. I believe that by hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good to our society.
  2. I believe that the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.
  3. I believe that talking about and engaging with my inevitable death is not morbid, but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition.
  4. I believe that the dead body is not dangerous, and that everyone should be empowered (should they wish to be) to be involved in care for their own dead.
  5. I believe that the laws that govern death, dying and end-of-life care should ensure that a person’s wishes are honored, regardless of sexual, gender, racial or religious identity.
  6. I believe that my death should be handled in a way that does not do great harm to the environment.
  7. I believe that my family and friends should know my end-of-life wishes, and that I should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.
  8. I believe that my open, honest advocacy around death can make a difference, and can change culture.
    Perhaps Doughty’s gender, age, appearance and culture is in stark contrast to that of Stephen Jenkinson, yet perhaps not is her comedy, her open-ness, her story telling and her death positive or non-death-phobic (as Jenkinson calls it) status.eight_col_zenith_viragoWhilst standing in the line for book signing with Stephen, i made conversation with the women behind me. One looked like she could see right through me, like she was reading something of me i couldn’t (yet?). ‘Twas curious. They had met at Zenith Virago’s course in Nelson where they had learnt to be DeathWalkers.

    Virago runs a centre in Byron Bay, Australia called Natural Death Care Centre – Celebrating Life & Death.

    For those interested she is returning to Aotearoa to Christchurch and to Wellington in May 2017 to offer a 3 day course called Deathwalker Training, which can be followed up by a one-day Funeral Master Class.

    Here i share a link to Virago’s article DIY Funerals: From Bed to the Grave.

    Reading her site has reminded me to somehow watch Zen and the Art of Dying sometime soon, but for now that chapter from Die Wise awaits…

    Go well, Die wise.

    Written by Emily Marks


  1. Thank you dear Emily this rings so true in my heart and has reminded and nudged me into researching / searching into my next passion of work “helping,caring,guiding the soul during the time of death” What a honour it will be. I have been blessed to be witness to a dying step father and exposed to dear loved ones passing at an early age of 21yrs of age which guided my to my own spiritual evolution. I have worked with Dr Levry’s (my beloved teacher) music Lumen de Lumine during the time of passing and have seen souls relax and welcome the angels of light to guide them Wow what an amazing beautiful and privilege.
    Bless your words bless your heart ❤️
    So much love

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