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My Dying Friend’s Woke Wake and Why We Need to Talk About Death

Recently, on a beautiful blue-sky Saturday, I attended my first “woke wake.”

My dear friend has welcomed in the love and care of hospice, and she and her family wanted to host a celebration.

The meaning of “woke” signals an awareness of social action, with a focus on racism and bias in our culture. She also wanted to be “awoke” to the experience of her wake. More importantly, her party was an honest expression that she will die soon. Her acknowledgement was courageous.

We share so openly about birth, and yes, there is deep sorrow with , but doesn’t it deserve as much open acknowledgement? Silence only makes the journey that much more difficult. 

In her rose-rimmed glasses, moving about the party with such grace, she held her truth with pride. Her heart is full yet has become so weak.

There were plates of delicacies with brie decorating beets, fall fruit bowls adorned with persimmons and pomegranate, plates of pumpkin brownies and breads, chips finding dips, laughter finding tears.

She preferred we didn’t clink cups and share stories. Instead, it was both a “Bon Voyage” and “Welcome Home” celebration. The voyage is universal for all of us. Home becomes the outstretched arms of loving community and, as Ram Dass wrote, “We are all just walking each other home.”

The morning my father passed away just shy of ninety-five, I spoke with him by phone as he lay in his hospital bed. The last thing he said in his forever strong but raspy voice, before hanging up the phone, was “Well, gotta go honey.”

We all “gotta go,” but the privilege some of us have to plan for how we go is a gift. Many do not have that luxury due to economic, social, and possible cultural differences.

But for many, there are concrete plans we can make as we

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Ram Dass

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