Talking about Dying

"Spiral Staircase" by Rodrigo Soldon CC BY-ND 2.0

Death is a universal event that transcends many of the differences between us, but it's not something that we have regular opportunities to think and talk about. Oregon Humanities developed the Talking about Dying program to create more public opportunities to reflect on the stories and influences that shape our thinking about death and dying and to hear perspectives and ideas from fellow community members.

Talking about Dying community conversations are free, ninety-minute facilitated discussions geared toward public audiences (ages 15+). During the program, participants talk together about questions such as:

  • What do we want—and not want—at the end of our life?
  • How might our family, culture, religion, and beliefs shape how we think about death?
  • How do access to care, geography, and desires to be remembered affect our decisions about the end of our life?

In fall of 2015, we partnered with public libraries across Oregon to offer thirty-eight Talking about Dying discussions that engaged more than 750 Oregonians with questions like the ones listed above. The results were overwhelmingly positive. Oregonians shared stories of grief and reflections on life, and they wrestled with hard questions with compassion and care. One community partner told us after the discussion, “There was so much gratitude in the room for the chance to have such a rich conversation. At the beginning, people described themselves with words like ‘afraid' and, at the end, ‘hopeful' and ‘comforted.'” A participant wrote, “Here were people talking about pretty intimate experiences and feelings to others who were essentially strangers. They were vulnerable, but because of the way the program was designed and conducted, I did not hear a single comment that was disrespectful or critical.”

In 2017, Oregon Humanities will continue the Talking about Dying program and ensure that more Oregonians have access to this important conversation, thanks to the generous support of the WRG Foundation Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation. Oregon Humanities anticipates scheduling thirty conversations across the state between March and October 2017.

We invite Oregon nonprofits, tribes, and community organizations to apply to host a free Talking about Dying program in 2017. Our hope is to bring Talking about Dying to communities that represent the broad geographical reach of our state, and we are particularly interested in partnering with organizations that serve populations that may have an interest in this topic from a specific perspective—for example, medical, religious, or political—but that are also drawn to a more reflective, open-ended exploration of death and dying.

For each conversation, Oregon Humanities will provide:

  • Facilitator honoraria, mileage, and meals
  • Lodging, if facilitators must travel more than a hundred miles one way
  • Publicity support materials
  • Reading and resource materials

For each conversation, host partners will cover/provide:

  • Space/venue for the program
  • Publicity support
  • Onsite support (e.g., arranging chairs)

If you are interested in learning more about hosting a program in your community, please contact Program Coordinator Mikaela Schey at (503) 241-0543, ext. 110, or

To apply to host a program, please complete and submit an application at least six weeks before the requested program date. Applications will be approved on a rolling basis while funds are available.

Talking about Dying is made possible thanks to the support of the WRG Foundation Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation.