Earlier this month, board member Shelby McBride had a conversation with members Willow Kelly & Rev. Kate Adamson about their newly formed Community Care Group in Central Virginia.
End of Life Doula, Willow Kelly and Interfaith Minister, Rev. Kate Adamson of Central Virginia came together in June of 2019 to brainstorm ways they could collaborate in death care. Partially inspired by the recent unexpected passing of Kate’s stepson and the beautiful home funeral experience that followed, they both felt called to explore ways to deepen their involvement in this work together.
Click here to listen to Kate’s home funeral story on a recent episode of our podcast, A Path Home, “Farewell to a Gentle Giant."
Relatively new to the NHFA, Willow and Kate each felt compelled to attend the biennial conference held in Chaska, Minnesota and decided to share the journey there together.
They were deeply inspired by everything they experienced in Chaska, with all of the classes attended, the connections made and rich conversations that were enjoyed. Willow found she was especially inspired by the work of our friends in the Minnesota Threshold Network, who contributed greatly to the atmosphere and learning opportunities offered at the conference, including the 3 day mock vigil. They left the conference impassioned, with a laser focus.
Kate and Willow knew they wanted to build a community around this profound work, starting with the people they already knew and expanding where called. There was an escalation of kismet as things began to unfold naturally, with ease and grace. Their community care group was lovingly birthed as they began offering support to their own community.
They held a Death Salon event in November 2019, attended by over a dozen participants, in which several thoughtful activities were shared to help connect those present to one another, to invite them to consider the role that death plays in their own lives and to drop deeply into their own individual connections with the earth. Information on local resources were shared, along with an invitation to join the group, to volunteer or to offer donations of specific equipment that a home funeral group might use, such as massage tables and other home funeral supplies. There was an opportunity to give constructive feedback about the whole experience and to sign up for the newsletter. This event was followed by an advance directive meet and complete style presentation, helping several people complete their own documents.
Still fresh in its infancy, Threshold Services of Central Virginia, is working to develop their educational programming, actively seeking out new volunteers and outlining their plan of action on what they’d like to bring to their local community. Willow shared she believes this work is “so very urgent, environmentally, spiritually and metaphysically.” A proponent of encouraging earth friendly burial practices, Willow asks us to consider how “our bodies can either be a blessing to the earth, or a curse,” and to choose consciously.
Threshold Services of Central Virginia will continue holding educational meetings, and offering other relevant, helpful community education, including an upcoming Death Box Playshop, as a complement to the 10 session Community Care Group program outlined in the book, Undertaken With Love by Holly Stevens. Their activities will also include family directed home funeral workshops and of course, support for local home funeral families in their time of need. You can find event listings and contact their group online at https://www.facebook.com/thresholdva .
In honor of National Mentoring Month, we asked one of the founders of the home funeral movement to share a story about her mentor. Heidi sent us this story about her first home funeral experience with her mentor, Nancy Jewel Poer.
It was early morning on December 17th 1987 when Nancy Jewel Poer telephoned needing my help with an elderly and beloved community member who had passed away during the night. It was still dark out and the day of my daughter’s first birthday. I have no recollection of how my two young children were cared for that morning, I just recall driving the short distance to the house where the body lay, feeling honored that Nancy would reach out. I was 23 years old and not thinking about a career guiding families or caring for the dead. It’s just what our community did and still does today.
I’ve known Nancy since I was 12. As a teenager I boarded with her family in the suburbs of Sacramento, as my own family lived an hour away in the foothills and the commute to school was too long. In addition to Nancy’s twins being my best friends and the general daily chaos of a large family, there were plenty of elderly people coming and going, aging and dying. I was thrown into the mix of this vibrant and eclectic family, doing chores, helping with meals and babysitting. Making caskets, dying silks, playing with dry ice was the norm and it didn’t occur to me that there was anything different.
But on that cold, dark winter morning that should have been
set aside for a sweet breakfast celebrating my baby’s trip around the sun, another ritual was taking place around the birth of a wise old man into the spiritual world. I recall the room being small, lights low and the two of us quietly coming together in a very new and different way. He was still warm, smelled musty and wore blue striped pajamas. She was teaching, instructing in hushed tones and I was willingly following, doing. I felt something powerful and special taking place that I had never experienced before, not with anyone. This was strange territory yet completely normal. When we were finished, I was exhausted. Still a nursing mother with demanding young ones, the need to “wash” away the experience before going back into my own tiny house reminded me of another community death almost two years prior.
A dear friend had accidentally run over his five year old son. It was deeply tragic and rattled our community to its core. I was extremely close to the child and his death affected me for years following. Because of my relationship with him and with the blessing of his mother, I insisted on being part of caring for his little body. The women involved, including Nancy, were reluctant at first but sensing my strong need, allowed my participation. It was the hardest thing I had ever experienced, even today the tears flow when thinking about dressing his little broken body and tucking his favorite doll into the homemade casket.
In looking back at that December morning so long ago, something not only sacred was taking place but something significant in my destiny, a turning point in my young life. I was given the skills that have helped guide many people in need, including my own family. Nancy was always more of a mother than a mentor and it wasn’t until years later, after doing this work for a long time, that it felt right to finally call her my “mentor.” I don’t know why exactly. The tables have long since turned and Nancy has called me for advice on several occasions. We share stories, laugh about the absurd, and savor a unique bond. I will always be grateful to her for instilling in me the courage to go forward, humor to be flexible and the importance of beauty surrounding the dead.