Living "Death Days" at the Cemetery with Laura Lyster-Mensh

October 29, 2023 Healwell Season 13 Episode 1
Living "Death Days" at the Cemetery with Laura Lyster-Mensh
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Living "Death Days" at the Cemetery with Laura Lyster-Mensh
Oct 29, 2023 Season 13 Episode 1

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Episode description:
Cal and Corey talk to Laura Lyster-Mensh, death doula in residence at Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC about making death an open topic of conversation.
Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh: Author, podcaster, rabble rouser ​and death doula
Life, Death and Grave Robbery in a Historic Cemetery, PhD Thesis by Rebecca Boggs Roberts
Write your own obituary
Death Positive Programming at Congressional Cemetery
Swedish Death Cleaning
Marie Kondo revealed she's 'kind of given up' on being so tidy
Dust to Dust: A Guide to Green Burials at Congressional Cemetery
The Landscape of Health Care in Wards 7 and 8

About Our Guest: 
Laura Lyster-Mensh, MS, is an American writer who has been founding organizations to solve problems all her life, including three international non-profits. She is the author of four books, and has produced four podcast projects, and is currently serving as Death Doula in residence at Historic Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC. She enjoys being old, and doesn’t mind being mortal. 

Healwell Homecoming; Sept 20-21, Arlington, VA

In true Healwell fashion, we’re inviting you to join us as we redefine the status quo, lead with kindness, and have fun doing it. Come as you are and come ready to collaborate, celebrate, and learn! Connect or reconnect with people you’ve met over the years through Healwell!

Come for the classes and stay for the party!

Support the Show.

Check out our new podcast! The Rub: a podcast about massage therapy

Giving Tuesday is over, but you can still support Healwell and the cool things we make by donating here!

Other ways to help and join in:

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Episode description:
Cal and Corey talk to Laura Lyster-Mensh, death doula in residence at Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC about making death an open topic of conversation.
Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh: Author, podcaster, rabble rouser ​and death doula
Life, Death and Grave Robbery in a Historic Cemetery, PhD Thesis by Rebecca Boggs Roberts
Write your own obituary
Death Positive Programming at Congressional Cemetery
Swedish Death Cleaning
Marie Kondo revealed she's 'kind of given up' on being so tidy
Dust to Dust: A Guide to Green Burials at Congressional Cemetery
The Landscape of Health Care in Wards 7 and 8

About Our Guest: 
Laura Lyster-Mensh, MS, is an American writer who has been founding organizations to solve problems all her life, including three international non-profits. She is the author of four books, and has produced four podcast projects, and is currently serving as Death Doula in residence at Historic Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC. She enjoys being old, and doesn’t mind being mortal. 

Healwell Homecoming; Sept 20-21, Arlington, VA

In true Healwell fashion, we’re inviting you to join us as we redefine the status quo, lead with kindness, and have fun doing it. Come as you are and come ready to collaborate, celebrate, and learn! Connect or reconnect with people you’ve met over the years through Healwell!

Come for the classes and stay for the party!

Support the Show.

Check out our new podcast! The Rub: a podcast about massage therapy

Giving Tuesday is over, but you can still support Healwell and the cool things we make by donating here!

Other ways to help and join in:

F1 S1 0:01

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Corey 0:56

Hello friends. Welcome to Inter-disciplinary the podcast where we say the quiet things loud explore difficult ideas in between spaces, ask many questions and a few, if any answers. This season we've gathered guests who talk about death and dying for a living. Today, Kalle and I are talking to lure Lester Mensch Death Dublin residents at the Congressional cemetery in Washington, DC. Laura runs a death positive program at the cemetery. And when this episode is over, I think you'll agree with me that we should all plan a trip to hang out with Laura some Saturday morning in the future. Here are announcements for the week. Carl Cates teaches two classes about life, death and authenticity that are coming up soon. The first opening to the mystery is a live six day online retreat, which will run January 22nd through the 27th from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Eastern each of those days. This course is highly interactive and will include more joy than you might expect. The second class A Year to Live meets the first Tuesday of each month from 7 to 8 p.m. Eastern April 20, 24th through 2025. We also have a live online class coming up called Unlearning Whiteness with Anne Kellerman and Carl Cates. The class will meet for 2 hours every Tuesday, starting at 4 p.m. Eastern from February six to March 26. You can always join us in the Hill West community, a community dot here. We'll talk. The theme for November will be Assertiveness, a topic all of us in the caring business could certainly use some help with. You can always contact us at podcast at Drop us a line. Tell us about you. Tell us about your pets, your nan for loved ones. Tell us what you're up to, what topics you're interested, and who you think we should talk to. And as always, thank you for listening. 

Cal 2:41

Hey, Carl. Yes? Corey. 

Corey 2:44

Do you think these new glass coffins I've been hearing about will be a success? 

Cal 2:48

Well, remains to be seen. 

Yeah. Yeah. Okay. That's a good one. That's a good one. I like that one a lot. Yeah. Remains to be seen. I get it. 

Corey 3:01

I guess I'll be on my way. 

Cal 3:04

Oh, man, that's creepy all by itself. 

Corey 3:06

Oh, the person who doesn't participate in their own story. Bummer. 

Cal 3:11

So, yeah, we're going. We're going with the death puns and the death one liners. Then as we're we're going into the depths of the death. And today we are excited to share with you someone who's all about the death and and and kind of I think I mean, you'll take us here, but sort of like how the being all about the death can also make us all about the life and how like, you know, the more we go into the death, the more we're like, oh, yeah, okay, there's a lot more. There's a lot of fun stuff to look at here. So we have with us Laura Lister Manesh, and she's going to tell us who she is and why we wanted to talk with her. So, Laura, welcome. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 3:47

Hi. This is such an honor. I'm a listener and I love what you're doing and I love having conversations about death, the. 

Cal 3:54

Death and stuff. 

But so you're so Laura, we met at a death event, and and you when you told me what you are doing, which is being the death doula in residence at Congressional cemetery here in the D.C. area, I was like, Huh, I need to know more. And of course, our listeners need to know more, too. So you made this job. Right. Tell us tell us how this happened and what what? It's all about. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 4:24

So I am an end of life tool. I'm a trained end of life to live. But I'm kind of doing it differently, usually an end of life to live or death to the same thing would be working individually as a person with clients individually, or they're a person in their family. And I decide, did that. What I'm really want to do is kind of pull it back to earlier in life. 

Cal 4:51

Before we're we're we're. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 4:53

Really deep in the dying process. I'm really interested in getting people to tiptoe towards talking about death and dying, being less afraid of death and dying people. This is very important to me. I think we're rather unkind and shunning of dying people. And I want to and I want to do that with curiosity. I want to do that with a little bit of courage. And I'm finding that there are ways to do that. And Congressional Cemetery has been such an amazing place to do this. They are a they are more of a community than just a place. We do all kinds of things down at the cemetery, for example, outdoor theater at night. This month, we show movies, we keep bees. 

Cal 5:41

It is off park, off leash, dog park. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 5:44

We have five ks. 

Cal 5:47

We also. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 5:47

Bury people. And so it is a place where we respect and honor dying people in their families and their legacies. But we're also very much living. That's why I love what you said, Carl, because this isn't the cemetery is not just about being dead and the community is not just about dying. But I don't think that we can we can leave that out. So they did not have anyone in their staff to work on this issue of death, positivity, of talking about mortality, of death awareness. And I had been volunteering there and I said, Why don't we do this? Why don't we call it a residency? And that gives it you know, a container without telling us exactly what it will do. And why don't we you know, why don't I just take charge of finding some ways to start these conversations and, oh, it's been a blast. The people who come out for this, it's different people every week. Some repeat, some not. But every Saturday morning between ten and noon this year are almost every Saturday. We have been having impactful conversations on various topics within the mortality death awareness space, and the cemetery staff enables that. And we serve sweet, sweet cakes and we drink tea in the in the kind of the vibe of a death cafe. But we do more active things. We do activities. I don't want anyone to have been able to do this by Zoom passively. We do it in-person and it's active. We do stuff or we talk about. We talk so that everyone in the room actually has an impact on what goes on in those few hours. So I'm just I'm very excited about it. I'm very grateful to the people who come into congressional for making this possible. 

Cal 7:38

Well, and it is so it's so alive. I mean, certainly, like I if I had a fear of cemeteries, it left me a long time ago. So maybe I'm not to be trusted, but it was also a sunny, beautiful day when Gary and I came to right after we met you the next weekend, you were having Isabella Carr, who is going to join us later in the season, who calls herself the deaf fat doula, talking about the issues around death and dying specific to people in big bodies and just walking into the cemetery, like just like there were dogs running around, which of course, I'm sold. Like if if there's dogs there, I'm in. But it was very alive for a cemetery. Large air quotes, because I think when people walk into a cemetery, there's sort of this like must be quiet, must almost pretend to be dead myself. 

And as that was not the vibe at all. And then of course, we walked in and there's Krispy Kreme donuts and there's coffee and there's people who are like, You're here to talk about death, right? And mean like we are. And and then we did. And it was but not like we did talk about death, but we also talked about all these other things and and looking at the lineup of what you have decided to bring in on these Saturday events and how sort of wide ranging like one of the recent sessions was about like lots of people are solo dying or in a position where they're going to die without kids, without a spouse, without someone who is an obvious person to care for them. And like, I mean, we can go so many ways from here. What what's been most challenging? What's been most exciting? 

Oh gosh. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 9:18

I, I can answer that in many ways, but I'm going to just top top line. The session with Isabella was one of the ones that I had dreamt of doing for a long time because I've dreamt of doing a lot of these topics for a long. 

Cal 9:30


Laura Lyster-Mensh 9:31

And having Isabella come, you know, our death Fadela to talk about. 

Cal 9:37


Laura Lyster-Mensh 9:38

And fat bodies and not be afraid of the word and not be afraid of the concept, but to connect it with dying and death in ways that people don't want to talk about. And a lot of people, I think, felt nervous about coming to that one. So as the room started to fill with more people, I was feeling that we were making, there was a step being made holding the event and then being in the room together and letting people be curious and courageous as I as I asked them to be. 

Cal 10:09


Laura Lyster-Mensh 10:10

And you know, not to not to to turn our backs on people, which is what I think we largely do with death. We turn our backs. You you're a pioneer of making sure that people get touch, which is something so important to me as well in my death. You know, I do sit with dying people every week and touch is so important and also taboo. 

Cal 10:35

Yes, Yes. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 10:37

I see volunteers come in and like the last thing they want to do, even if they're in the room, is they're afraid and they need to learn how to touch. I think we need to learn how to be with people at whatever stage of dying. And, you know, spoiler alert, we're all in a stage of dying. 

Cal 10:53

Yes. Yes. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 10:55

So that courage, curiosity and also humor that we're able to get going in that space. 

Cal 11:04


Laura Lyster-Mensh 11:05

And be about living Well, because it's about living authentically and being real with people and community. All the things that I love. And you got to see one of those one of those moments. We've had several, But can I just bring up one other one that I really love. 

Cal 11:23

Is bring up as many as you want. Yes. Yes. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 11:26

So one of my absolute favorite what was our junk drawer day. 

Cal 11:31


Laura Lyster-Mensh 11:33

I asked people to either bring in items from their junk drawer. You know, that that place where you keep things of no monetary value that someone's going to put in the trash after you die because they don't know what they are. 

Cal 11:45


Laura Lyster-Mensh 11:46

So people brought those items or they took a picture of them and I asked them to in like 2 minutes, tell their biography as told by their junk drawer. 

Cal 11:57


Laura Lyster-Mensh 11:59

And my I mean, it's fun. It's a fun activity because, you know, hey, why do you have your grandmother's teeth in this box? 

Cal 12:07

Yes. I literally yes. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 12:08

My grandmother's teeth. 

Cal 12:09

In my church. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 12:11

But I think that we need to stop shaming ourselves for these non-monetary only for us things. 

Cal 12:19


Laura Lyster-Mensh 12:19

I think we need to see our biographies as not just about our CV. 

Cal 12:24


Laura Lyster-Mensh 12:25

I think we need to own our biographies as, as real people with real memories and values. And and maybe that will help us unearth these things in our junk drawer. And that session was wonderful. And people went home kind of committing, I'm going to write down what these are or I'm going to record what these are. I'm going to put a little sticker on these to let my children or that, you know, whoever is going to clean out my my stuff know what this meant to me. 

Cal 12:54

Yeah. Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 12:56

That's my dream. My dream is that we all do our life review, live our lives as if we're going to die eventually. 

Cal 13:04


Laura Lyster-Mensh 13:05

And. And lift off the shame and lift off the self-doubt that sometimes our things give us, but also maybe to organize and maybe to let go of some of them. I don't know if that's if that's what needs to happen with with our junk drawers, but I know that we need to stop being, you know, hiding it. 

Cal 13:24


Laura Lyster-Mensh 13:25

And that's some of the kind of work that we're doing. 

Cal 13:28

Yeah. I feel like that's we just did this sort of the decluttering month in the year to live course that I facilitate. And we there is a conversation about like there is a box of stuff that or theoretically I don't know I want I don't want to say ideally because that has like a shaming ness to it all by itself. But sort of that, that doesn't mean anything to anyone but you and that when you die, maybe the note on the side of this boxes, you can check this. It was stuff for me but I love the idea of like, but here's why I kept it. And like, I know that this looks like a crazy thing that like, why would a person keep this? But this was a thing I found on this most beautiful day that I spent with this other person. And I know it looks like broken glass, but actually for me, every time I touched it or saw it or whatever, this is what came up. And so then maybe one of your loved one says, Oh, like that's I feel more connected to this person now because I know this is why they kept this. You don't keep the whole drawer necessarily, but I feel like it is this balance of providing guidance for the people we leave behind about how to handle whatever we did leave behind. And also like an invitation like these are some of my private moments that like you can even learn more about me after I die. You can even know me a little bit more after, you know, as you look at my my things. So I love that. Like really look at that and be like, huh, Yeah. I don't know. Maybe nobody will care, but I'm going to like, this is why I kept this little thing and that's why I have this. And yeah, let's use. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 14:57

The word invitation. And I think that that is just the most that's the essence of it. I think that when we're inviting people to know us, we're also, you know, giving proper value to who we are and we're not trying to fit into somebody else's ideas or some, you know, well, this is better and this is worse. It's just me. And that's why this piece. 

Cal 15:20

Of glass. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 15:22

Sparks some feeling in me. And maybe it's a negative feeling. 

Cal 15:25

Yeah, I think, yeah, the whole. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 15:26

Marie Kondo thing and the Swedish death cleaning can get into some sense of that. There's better and worse and that, you know, your memories are not valued by others in a way. Yeah. And so I would love to see that balanced, you know, And I'm into those things. I love them. 

Cal 15:45

Yeah. Great tools. Yeah, but. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 15:47

But if it's an invitation to you, I'm just start if may I. If I may. I'm going to start using the word invitation more when I talk about this because I think you nailed it. 

Cal 15:56

Yeah, that's I mean, I and I tell people, I always say, like, you don't have to RSVP. It's a choice. But I am I am inviting you to this potential party and you can opt out if you like, but I'm not forcing you. I'm not shaming you. But here's a thing that could happen. Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 16:12


Cal 16:14

Well, we should. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 16:15

Do. We should do a thing just on that. 

Cal 16:17


Laura Lyster-Mensh 16:18

I am planning next year and end of year thing where I'm having people do their life reviews and at the end of the year we're going to display them. And some will be audio, some will be videos, some will be art, you know, whatever it is. But there will definitely be a junk drawer as well. 

Cal 16:35

That's awesome. Yes. Yes, that's great. Yeah. I feel like it's so easy for us to like. I agree about Marie Kondo, Swedish chef. Cleaning was a little strict for me. I was like, Ooh, yikes. But still, like everybody. I mean, you know, we all have different temperaments and things that resonate for us. And I feel like there is value in all of these guides, and we're so tempted to make projects of ourselves that like, I think it's easy to be like, okay, this is my credo and it's like, I don't maybe don't go quite that far. Like these are this is a book of invitations that you can, you know, accept or not and see what happens and sort of all of it. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 17:16

Yeah. And it can also become something that we're doing wrong. 

Cal 17:19


Laura Lyster-Mensh 17:20

You know, just yet another way to feel is if we do Well yes. 

Cal 17:25

Yeah exactly. 

Corey 17:26


we're talking about productivity in the community this month, but not work until you die productivity. And that's like count the widgets productivity, not like that. Mostly about how you get things done. If you get things done and how you maybe you'd like to get things done. But like systems are rough and one of the themes that has come up sort of without me pushing it, really, which is cool, is that like systems work until they don't and they work for you until they don't. And I think that often about things like models, I'm really into making models of things and systems and whatever, and they're great until they're not. So I think it's I mean, it spreads to everything, right? Including thinking about death and life and all of those things. And Swedish death cleaning is a model that works until it doesn't. And so was Marie Kondo, which I think if I heard an update about her like a year ago and she was like, I had kids and like all that stuff kind of disappeared and it was great while it worked. And then I had children. 

Cal 18:31

And like, now. 

Corey 18:32

Everything's a mess. And I was like, Right. It worked until it didn't. 

So that's one thought I had. The other thought I had as a as a person who arranges things for people to come to and they either do or don't. Again, with the open invitation, how do you get people to come to death Day at a cemetery? 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 18:50

This has been really interesting, so there is no way for me to know how many people hear about this and don't write. I can only tell you about the ones who do. And it has been very interesting to me. I think I at first assumed that what it would be. 

Cal 19:08


Laura Lyster-Mensh 19:09

A lot of old ladies, you know. You know, I think I thought I saw an army of me coming in. 

I didn't, but I didn't have a real like type in my head. I just felt really drawn to doing this kind of project. And I thought I would sit there alone like a like a like a lonely librarian in the gatehouse of the cemetery. And occasionally someone would come in and I would convince them to do the five wishes. And then we'd, you know, drink tea and talk about death. 

Cal 19:43

Which sounds fun also. It does. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 19:45

I'm all I'm all about it. That's, you know, that's my core. And but I felt like, well, you know what? I know I know people and I want to know more people who are really interested in this. So I started inviting guests and having themes and having topics by the way, I thought one day a week of doing this would just be like, I would just have the rest of my life, you know, I'd be gardening and, you know, out of my potting shed. No, it has been really exhausting. But what I think happened is a different types of people heard about it and felt drawn to it. And so I can tell you that 

there's some sort of union of male identified people who come mostly if they have a personal experience of adjacency to death. I think we have people who come as couples, which I find very interesting. That's a pretty common thing that people come and I feel as if they're exploring something together about. 

Cal 20:50

Okay, I was going to ask like, do you feel like one or the other has been dragged to this thing that that the other one is interested in? But no, it sounds like I mean, certainly it's a mixed bag, right, to be coaxed. I kind of. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 21:00

Feel as if one partner is often, you know, leaning forward and one is leaning back. 

Cal 21:05

Yes. Yeah, absolutely. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 21:07

But in the end, you know, we get a lot of participation. I have been so pleased with how many young people come. I did not expect that. I, I hope for it because I think that's Well, that was me if you, if you'd had this event when I was young, I would have been going. 

Cal 21:25

Yes, yes. Oh me. Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 21:28

One, one thing that I have found interesting is we do have people who are really facing mortality up close. 

Cal 21:35


Laura Lyster-Mensh 21:36

And I wasn't sure that people would want to do that. You know, that's scary. But here's why. In my what I'm observing is that people come if they're gravely ill, because in their lives, most of the people around them are afraid to use the word death, afraid to talk about death and are freaked out that the person wants to talk about death. So to be able to come into a space where there is zero eye rolling. 

Cal 22:01

Yeah. Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 22:02

I think that that's been a resource that I wasn't I didn't know would happen. But it's also been very helpful to the whole circle of people who come and it's a rolling group. It's never the same group, but often people are coming frequently and they know each other and they have become a support to each other, including ones that are closer to it or are having trouble with their kids about the topic or their husband on the topic. 

Cal 22:29


Laura Lyster-Mensh 22:29

There's that going on. 

Cal 22:31


Laura Lyster-Mensh 22:31

But here's one thing that has happened straight through since Jan. We started first week in January. We're going to the last week in December in this project is that we never have boring conversations and there is no small talk. 

Cal 22:45

Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Corey 22:47

Oh, my heart. 

Cal 22:48

Right. That's so nice. Yeah, right. I, I, I've. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 22:54

Got to say, I've done a lot of things. Advocacy, teaching, traveling and the boring conversation is kind of the cost of, of entry for a lot of things. You know, if you want to be in company with people, you generally kind of have to have some small talk. But in this situation, for whatever reason, and maybe it's because they've just walked into a cemetery, 

or maybe it's because of the topic that we've advertised. It is, but there's no small talk. Everyone comes in is an equal ready to address it. There's nothing anybody can say that just causes people to be offended and walk away. 

Cal 23:32

Yeah, I think there's a. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 23:32


Cal 23:33

Generosity of. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 23:35

Of conversation. Even if someone says something kind of. Yeah, just off the wall. 

Cal 23:40


Laura Lyster-Mensh 23:41

It's still taken in with compassion in a way that I genuinely have never seen. I'm 62. I have never seen such consistency of generosity and no games. No games at all. 

Cal 23:59

So I'm curious. I am an optimist and a skeptic. And so when you say that sometimes people come who are more apparently closer to death, I feel like sometimes what I see in spaces where people think they are death positive is that when death actually comes into the room, like legit in the form of a person who looks gravely ill, people are like, Oh shit, this is no longer a cerebral exercise. And like, it is hard to like they they don't know what to say or they become uncomfortable. Do you notice that happen or is there really kind of that? I mean, when you walk into that chapel and I don't know if they all happen in the chapel, but when you walk in there, it is sort of like you're entering like the cone of authenticity or like sort of like everything goes here. So do you see people sort of stiffen up if someone who comes in using oxygen or I don't know, you know, what kind of the folks who have come in, how you might know that they're ill until they tell you, but how does that how does that go down? 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 24:56

You know, it could also be me where we kind of the setting I think isn't having an effect. 

Cal 25:03


Laura Lyster-Mensh 25:05

I think the the name of the thing, you know, we're explicit about death. I do not call myself an end of life. 

Cal 25:11

Doula Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 25:12

I call myself a death. 

Cal 25:13

Doula Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 25:14

So there's, I think there's a, the kind of people that are going to walk into that are prepared in a different way. 

Cal 25:21


Laura Lyster-Mensh 25:22

And when it does come to someone sharing an almost no acquaintance. Oh, I have stage for this. Oh I've just been through at Y. 

Cal 25:31


Laura Lyster-Mensh 25:32

I never see anyone leaning away. Now I might not see that someone doesn't come back. 

Cal 25:38

Because it feels too. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 25:39

It's too hard. That could be happening. I don't keep track of of people's coming and going and oh, they didn't come to this. 

Cal 25:47


Laura Lyster-Mensh 25:48

But I do see conversations happening after we break them. I see people walking up to people and starting conversations. And again, I'm not monitoring or, you know, you know, I'm not trying to tell people, hey, go, go talk to so-and-so. It's happening organically. 

Cal 26:07

But it it. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 26:09

Is my sense that people feel safer having those conversations and they feel safer being courageous because it does take courage. It takes me courage. 

Cal 26:18

Yeah. Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 26:19

I it doesn't it's not getting easier for me to talk to people. 

Cal 26:23

Yeah. Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 26:24

I've just committed to it and I stand in the in my discomfort and let myself feel my whatever feels are coming at me. And that's maybe my superpowers, that I'm good at that and being awkward and, and forgiving myself for, for awkward. And I, and I'm trying to model that for other people. And it does seem maybe they came that way. Maybe we're all helping each other be that way. 

Cal 26:49


Laura Lyster-Mensh 26:50

All I can say is that that's what I'm, what I'm observing and what I hear from others about what when they come in and they're in that and what they say afterwards. But again, there's confirmation bias, you know. 

Cal 27:01

So, yeah, absolutely. Right. Right. And certainly, like it is a self-selecting group, even if you have, you know, people who have been coaxed to attend that, etc., that there's a a willingness to enter that space that, you know, you wouldn't have was just a random sample of the public here. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 27:15

Yeah. I originally was going to do this. I was going to rent a coffee shop, actually. 

Cal 27:21

Or a storefront. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 27:23

And and do this project before I got involved with congressional. And soon as I got involved with congressional, I'm like, Oh, no, I got to do it here. And and now I see that it was it's just perfect. 

Cal 27:35


Laura Lyster-Mensh 27:36

But I've always dreamed of creating a space where people could come in and, you know, I'm I actually want to have a little menu, which I'd like to work on this. Would you like to work on this? How how have you thought about doing this and help people do that? 

Cal 27:51

Mm hmm. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 27:52

And when we're doing it. Yeah, you're doing it. 

Corey 27:58

So when I think about cemeteries near me and there's one down the street on a extremely busy traffic corner, 

in fact, it's incredibly inconveniently placed or I think everybody visiting and everybody going around it. But there's a river and nowhere to go. 

Cal 28:16

Oh, the metaphors. 

Corey 28:17

I write like there's that. It's flowing all the time and also terribly restrictive. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 28:22

And that the living, the living people are just streaming around it and making it, you know. 

Corey 28:26

Thing by and like sometimes using it as a shortcut, which is a terrible. 

Cal 28:30

Idea because they're big. 

Corey 28:31

And everybody's cars are very large. 

But it's very and all the cemeteries around here are really dead, which seems like a weird thing to say, but like, I feel like all of the life in cemeteries comes from the grass and the flowers and the animals. And like every the trees, everything. That's not a human. And all of the humans in them are very non active, like they're kind of inanimate and like sometimes like the gravestones have more personality than the people because they all just, like, pull themselves completely in. And, you know, we have this moment of silence and that's a cemetery. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 29:12

Some of that's by design. So if you look at kind of the history of of cemeteries, there's always there's different eras going on. And the era that congressional cemetery is in was one in which it was they'd moved away from the church graveyard, which was grim and kind of scary and also very hierarchical, like how close you are to the church. 

It had a different vibe. Congressional was built in a time, an early American history, where they were getting away from the idea of that it was connected with your church, and they were also getting away from the idea that bodies were to be, you know, buried and then and then walked away from. 

So congressional is from the era where there's picnic. People literally made picnic tables for people to come visit. 

Cal 30:08

It's like pre-Civil War, isn't it? Like early. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 30:11

18th 1807. 

Cal 30:13

1807 okay. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 30:14

And it very much is a place to commune with your your departed people. You are meant to be there. You are meant it's like a park. It was part it was an early part of creating national parks and regional parks. So it's park Park like and congressional is very much like that. And also the memorials are they're not all the same. They're very varied. They're they're mixed. Like the newest new and older are near each other. They're big things. They're small things. It's very difficult to mow the lawn. So then you think about there was an era where graveyards were not meant to be places you'd hang out, you know, and picnic on the grave. Very easy to mow. 

Cal 30:58

And this is. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 30:59

Like one of the things I don't know if the when you're talking about is easy to mow, like straight lines, easy to. So yeah, not meant to be. You go and you put flowers on your person and you. 

Cal 31:12

Want to get the hell out. Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 31:14

So and there there have been different eras of our relationship with death where our relationship with bodies, there's a really excellent Ph.D. thesis that someone who used to run Congressional cemetery wrote 

and it tells about these eras. I highly recommend it. I'll give you the link if you want to. This the best Ph.D. thesis I've ever read. And and I don't mean that as an insult. It's just so great. But anyway, talking about these eras of cemeteries and how congressional fits in it, and I think that also leads to us being able to carry on that feeling in the cemetery. It's a it's a it's a living thing, as you said. And for example, we are the as far as we know, the only really openly LGBTQ I plus cemetery. We have a whole area gay corner where the DC five K Pride comes from. I think that's been going on for generations, where a congressional says yes to things because it's an active place, not a place trying to stay the same through the ages. 

Cal 32:23

Well, and I feel like this is the idea of cemetery as locus of social justice feels really sort of exciting to me that in so many ways just the phrase of congressional says yes, like cemeteries aren't a place that you hear. Yes. Like I don't think of cemeteries as a yes kind of a place. And that there's so much potential in just saying yes and being willing for life to coexist with death and. Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 32:53

And to move with society. 

Cal 32:56


Laura Lyster-Mensh 32:57

At the time that they created it, it was kind of it was kind of revolutionary because it was not a church based. It is owned by a church, by the way. But it's not it's not a faith. It is mixed faiths. The the memorials for the congresspeople that are that are you know, we have a bunch of cenotaphs and graves of congresspeople. They are in an Egyptian style and they are obelisks. So this was a at the time this was saying something we're not just going to it's not it's a very few crosses. For example, even though most of the people there are Christian. But it is saying we are the United States is a new place with new ideas and that we're harkening back way back to, you know, to to the ancient Egyptians rather than just holding ourselves here. It was a way to be modern, you know, in a way. And I think that that that has carried on through the ages at congressional. It's one of the reasons it can move and change with new things, because it's not about one thing. 

Cal 34:06


Laura Lyster-Mensh 34:07

If that makes sense. 

And now we have green burials there. 

Cal 34:11

Which we do. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 34:13

Weird fact, yes, most burials there now are green. 

Cal 34:16

But the truth. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 34:17

Is that's what great. Yeah, it actually green burial now is actually a lot like burial has always been. 

Cal 34:25


Laura Lyster-Mensh 34:26

In that you're not trying to bury people and put them in a in a vault in a box and, and like protect the body. You're asking the body, you're letting the body go back to the earth. You're putting anything in there that's not biodegradable. You're not treating the body as if it's dangerous and going to hurt you If you don't put it like down there. You're not making promises to people that their people will. 

Cal 34:52


Laura Lyster-Mensh 34:52

The same for the next 300 years. 

Cal 34:55

Which is gross. But it's also, in so many ways very green. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 35:01

And, you know, embalming is not particularly a great thing for the environment. 

Cal 35:06


Laura Lyster-Mensh 35:06

And so we do offer a green burial. It's the only place in in right in this region that that's encouraged. And, you know, it's part I think it's looping back to the history of how we used to do things as well. It's another reason why the cemetery, the ground is very 

when you had these the newer ones had these vaults. 

Cal 35:30


Laura Lyster-Mensh 35:31

There would not be a ground, would not, you know, kind of go in and when you see gravestones that are straight up, 

this is it took me a while to understand this. But graves gravestones fall towards the body because there's a hole. Oh. 

Cal 35:49

Yeah. Since now. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 35:52

Green burials don't have a space. They don't have. Yeah, usually don't even have a coffin. 

Cal 35:59


Laura Lyster-Mensh 36:00

So there's not going to be that same thing. But when you go to an old cemetery, you see there's often depressions in the ground because they are before the era of having these vaults and very deep burial green burials are higher up. 

Cal 36:17

I was going to ask, is it it's not six feet with a with a green burial. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 36:20

It's not I forget what the exact dimensions but they're also mounded over and that that that just kind of melts down. 

Cal 36:28


Laura Lyster-Mensh 36:29

And there's often not, you know, a stone. 

Cal 36:32


Laura Lyster-Mensh 36:34

And green burial is a nice term for basically a traditional burial and it means different things to different people. 

Cal 36:43

Mm hmm. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 36:43

And I just want to put in a word that green burial sounds like it must be 100% good. Like there's there can't be anything bad about green. 

Cal 36:52


Laura Lyster-Mensh 36:54

I think we need to keep in mind that embalming and certain, you know, rituals around how we place the body, what we dress, the body and how, you know, whether we use shrouds or coffins. These are deeply important cultural customs for some people. And when you try to tell people doing it wrong and they're not green and they're not, you know, they're bad for. 

Cal 37:17

The earth. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 37:18

To do the thing that, you know, their grandparents did, their great grandparents, you are you may be shaming them for a rather small infraction in the world of of what are environmental impact and also making their culture invisible and shamed. So I'm a little resistant to the idea that there's a right way to be buried. I have chosen green burial. That's what I'm going to do. But that doesn't mean that I am prescribing that other people are not doing it right and that I'm better than them. And I'm really always very cautious about how we we 

prescribe our values to other people as if that can just be done like a rubber stamp. 

Cal 38:02

Well, I feel like there's an interesting line here because I know we're running out of space to bury people. And so when you talk about a vault and a coffin and the amount of space that that takes versus a body that is wrapped and not buried is deeply and doesn't have that and that will be allowed to biodegrade. And that, you know, theoretically, other bodies could be very close by or even in that same place, 100, 200 years from now, 

I would struggle. And maybe this is why I'm not going to be a doula in guiding people, because I would be like, so, I mean, sure, if you want to take up the limited resources that are left for burying bodies with your fancy coffin, I guess you could do that. But do you want to wear a mushroom suit or like, you know, there's so many cool options now, too. But I guess the other piece to that, like and this is I'm sure part of doing work is that people think they're going to be there when they're thinking about what they want done with their body. And so they're like, Oh, I couldn't possibly be wrapped in, you know, cloth and just put in the dirt. And I'm like, But you're not going to be. And I think that's a I mean, that's been a I'm not even going to talk about it in the past tense. Like, I've totally reconciled this, but it's been a process to even come to the place where I'm like, Right, It kind of doesn't matter to me. Calc hates what happens to my body because I won't be there. I can make all these plans and then the people that are left may do something entirely different, but I won't be there to be mad. I won't be there to be rained on, right? I won't like. So when you're helping people decide about corpse disposition, I feel like, how do you spend any time as adults kind of talking about like, so it sounds like you're getting hung up on like you might be cold and you won't be, I promise. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 39:47

Like, my vibe is humor is what you just said is probably but without judgment. And that's really hard because I have my own values, right? Yeah. But to not when I when I'm sitting with a dying person, I they're not going to do it wrong. There's nothing they could say. There's nothing they could believe. There's you know, they might say something that if we weren't talking about, you know, if we weren't in the situation where that would be inappropriate. And I'm offended, you know, that just judgment has no place there. It's too late for that. And who am I? Who am I? And I think that attitude in all things dealing with death is really important to accept people where they are. 

Cal 40:33


Laura Lyster-Mensh 40:34

My vibe on the whole death Tyler thing is that I because I don't do individual clients, is to try to pull it back a little earlier. 

Cal 40:43


Laura Lyster-Mensh 40:44

And to be curious about what things mean to people and help them find their way. Yeah. And it and not to prescribe my own, but I can be an advocate to let them know what the choices are. They may not know about them. Yeah, but I'm very sensitive about 

the idea that there's wrong ways to do this, because even on the green thing, 

we're really talking about a relatively small impact in a lifetime that is filled with many choices and impacts. And if somebody wants to, you know, if if what they need or what their family needs is something that has a high impact in that part of their life, you know, grieving and death are really important passages in life. And I think we probably take up, you know, how we take a public health view of certain things, harm reduction and public health. I think we could take the same about this in order to not put add another layer of shaming and and judgment and discord in families facing really serious things. It may be too late to change their views of what you know, they they need to mourn or to die. And I think the. Well, okay. So I think there's a wellness world of death. 

Cal 42:06

Mm hmm. Mm hmm. We both just perked up. 

Corey 42:10


Laura Lyster-Mensh 42:11

To bring her to bring it back to bring it back to your she your topic. I, I think we and by we, I mean mostly white women, American of a certain class. 

There is a sort of we can find the right way to do a thing and then we can tell others that they're wrong. 

And it's a little exhausting and it feels to me like something that, you know, 

we're almost re-enacting what was done to us in in other ways. 

Cal 42:47

Yeah, that's what we do. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 42:49

And so I'm here to push back a little bit on that stuff that's kind of, you know, my something I get to do in this space is, is push back on a little bit of that. 

Cal 42:59


Laura Lyster-Mensh 43:00

Does that make sense? You know, there is no denying that the death doula world is mostly of a certain class of a certain culture gender. We we attract people with money to just, you know, to, to take the time to do this. There is almost no money to be made being an end of life to a And I think people need to know that if you are going to get this training and you want to do this thing, that you need to give a thought to the money. Because I've said this way too many times, but women convince ourselves that if it's a good thing and it's, you know, it's morally right and it's good and people should pay me to get it done. 

Cal 43:49


Laura Lyster-Mensh 43:50

And that is a trap. We have to be good business people. We have to feed our families in a lot of ways and not get into a conflict with, you know, why aren't people paying me to do this thing? I'm a good person. 

Cal 44:04


Laura Lyster-Mensh 44:05

And this world, the deaf world, is filled with that same thing that I've seen in other other worlds. And I think we could learn from that. And we can start telling each other that that isn't the only way to look at it. And it's okay to get paid for and to be valued for what you do. It's also okay to give it away, but don't confuse the two. 

Cal 44:29


Corey 44:30

Be very conscious of how much you are giving. 

Cal 44:34


Laura Lyster-Mensh 44:35

Just pouring out. 

Corey 44:37

We've had elements. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 44:38

Feeding you, feeding the people around you, and then getting angry that people aren't seeing you. For the good person you are is a very easy trap to fall into. And I think the deaf world suffers from many of those same things. And we can encourage each other to be, you know, we want to do a business do business. 

Cal 44:59

In there. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 44:59

Get a business plan, think about the finances. Don't just be angry at the world for not providing. The world does not value caregiving. 

Cal 45:11

That's yeah I mean well and I think it's it's interesting to you because it's so full of nuance because I having just come off almost a month of palliative care and conferences, there were end of life doula organizations, death doula organizations and individual like practices exhibiting at all of these events. And there is like a growing conversation around, well, wait, so death doulas are kind of like community health workers in a way. And we're definitely seeing the value of that. And like and that I know that I've seen like when Death Toll is first came on the scene, like maybe 15 years ago, I was like, this is the worst idea I've ever heard of. These are like, say more say more people who are themselves afraid of dying, who want to show up with the answers. And I am here to guide you on this process I don't know shit about and I'm not going to, you know, like the training didn't involve mortality awareness for yourself or any kind of sense of like. So before you go showing up to somebody else's end of life process, you got to get real clear that you will also have one one day and that your own mortality is possibly one of your biggest strengths in like supporting people on this journey. And as death doula ness has has professionalized. And this is the interesting nuances, like there's a resistance to professionalization because somehow professionalization undermines sacredness. And I you know, we have this problem in massage therapy as well. It's like we're just healers. Why do we have to, like, have advanced training? And I'm like, well, you don't to but what value do you want to bring and what kind of responsibility and accountability do you want to have to the people that you serve? And that I am seeing a market interest and investment is maybe too strong a word at this point. But among health care decision makers in the death doula movement, for lack of a more specific way to describe it, that some of the organizations that are establishing rigorous training with real competencies, health care is going, oh, maybe like I don't want to all of you people, because some of you don't actually belong at the bedside of really sick people or in my hospital. But if you know how to be in this space, you could be helping us with advanced care planning, which is a huge gap in care, and is part of why we spend so much money and like so I do, I think there's a future and I think, like you said, it always comes down to what do you want and what do you have to invest to get what you want? And like, what is that? I think we care. We caring folk get into this slippery slope of like, well, it's more important to me to be able to do the work than to get paid for it. And so then there you go. And you're watching your levels sort of go down as you, you know, believe in your own sacredness. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 47:54

And and the and there's a weird phenomena in that where we start to feel competitive with others who are doing the same. Well, the scarcity problem, the scarcity and also and also not seeing that the real key would be to ally together to work in cooperatives, to, as you know, to to form referral networks to we're going to need to build that. No one's going to come along and do it for us. And otherwise we're in competition with one another. 

Cal 48:26


Laura Lyster-Mensh 48:27

And if you're an I'm I'm primarily a writer, more than I'm anything. And if I give away my writing for free because I want exposure or because, you know, I just want to see my name in lights. 

Cal 48:39

Yeah, that. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 48:40

That happens all the time. By the way. 

Cal 48:41

An obvious sleep. Obviously you're here. And, you. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 48:45

Know, the idea that we if we give it away, we're actually might be undermining others. And we're also making sure that it is only for a certain class of people. It's it's people who have that the bandwidth, the time, the flexibility, the education, the self-empowerment to do these roles. And that means that we're all going to be looking for clients in that in that class, too. 

Cal 49:12


Laura Lyster-Mensh 49:13

And I you know, I just I worry about this stuff not just for that dulling and obviously as you do the caring thing. Yeah, but we need to support each other in, in in doing and I see exactly what you're talking about where you know, I was trained by Nelda. I just finished my my certification, as a matter of fact. 

Cal 49:33

Knew I. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 49:35

I find that the reason I chose them is because they do focus on on professionalism. And as you said, seeing yourself in the picture. 

Cal 49:45


Laura Lyster-Mensh 49:45

You're not doing at people. 

Cal 49:47

You are you. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 49:48

Are also there. And that that is a skill you're bringing, not a weakness. These are important qualities and also an inter generational kind of competency across cultural competency. And I see I'm just ragging on it. Nelda I think they do a better job of all of this. 

Cal 50:07

Yeah, and. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 50:08

That's why I was attracted to it and I would like to see that grow. 

Cal 50:12


Laura Lyster-Mensh 50:13

Other spaces as. 

Cal 50:13

Well. Absolutely. Well, and you hinted at something I was going to ask. So I think when I moved to the district in like almost 25 years ago, it was definitely more black folks than white folks. And I think now it's about half and half. And I'm curious what what's the racial makeup of the folks who are coming to your weekend events? And I mean, I don't ask you to hypothesize what's that what that's about? But, you know, I know you have a who protected Black Lives Matter memorials like coming up as one of your topics. And I'm just curious, how does all that figure into. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 50:47

So what you what you want know about me is that my mom is black and I'm very white appearing. But I come from culturally, from that space. And so my mother loves to come to my events no matter what activities I'm doing. And making sure that she raises her hand and notes who's in the room. 

Cal 51:10


Laura Lyster-Mensh 51:12

And which I both love. And you know, the of. So we're in D.C. and where congressional cemetery is, you know right near you know we are central east. Yeah right And so I've been very interested in how do we bring that in. I and I know from my own experience in my own life and my family that getting the trust of people to come into mixed spaces is not an equal thing. I mean, it's so much easier for certain people to feel like I belong anywhere I can. What? I don't know who's going to be there. I can go. I will be welcome and I will be the same as other people. 

Cal 51:52


Laura Lyster-Mensh 51:53

D.C. is such an interesting place in this way. I'm somewhat new to D.C. and trying to get the trust of people to come into the mixed space that I'm creating has been an interesting challenge and things like I resist embodying any of the imagery that I use. But it's hard because when I have a guest, I, you know, I might show a picture of them, but I, I and anytime I show a picture of myself, I am saying something. 

Cal 52:26


Laura Lyster-Mensh 52:26

That I can't, you know, I, you know, it's a struggle every time. And I, you know, I've told people that are doing promotions for from my project of, you know, if they try to do a stock, you know, any sort of stock photo or anything that embodies race or age or gender for, you know, is going to be a problem for me. And so I tend to. 

Cal 52:49

I don't know if you can scan a. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 52:51

Lot of my stuff. For the most part, I'm trying to make sure to go away from that. But that's also saying something. There's no way not to say is safe and belongs here. If you leave out people, you're saying something. If you put the people in there and I'm definitely never going to use you know, I use someone's a participant as a way to, you know. 

Cal 53:16

To lure in more people about the fact that. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 53:20

Mixed spaces are not easy to to trust. 

So I'm doing, you know, well, we met at an event in which this issue came up. 

Cal 53:35

Yes. Yes, I. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 53:35


Cal 53:36

I do. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 53:37

And one thing I said to someone in that context, we don't need to go into the details, but I did go to the the person who had created a piece of art that. 

Cal 53:51


Laura Lyster-Mensh 53:52

It was only white people from three different countries. 

Cal 53:56

Yes, there's enough. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 53:58

There's enough energy to go to three countries, but everyone who dies is white. I'm apparently. 

Cal 54:04

According to. Yes, exactly right. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 54:06

So when I pointed that out, one of the things I said is I struggle with this. I didn't say I'm a you know, a white appearing person of mixed background. And I just said I struggle with this. I know how hard it is for people to come into mixed spaces. I know that building trust in that is going to take a lot more than just getting in the newspaper and putting out ads and having a great venue. There's work that's got to be done to create a mixed space. 

Cal 54:35


Laura Lyster-Mensh 54:36

And I struggle and and but I think allowing myself to fail at it and keep keep working at it is part of it. 

Cal 54:45


Laura Lyster-Mensh 54:45

D.C. is a largely segregated place. 

Cal 54:49


Laura Lyster-Mensh 54:50

And I think we all need to admit that. 

Cal 54:53


Laura Lyster-Mensh 54:53

That's that is just a reality. We are a mixed. We're a mixed mixed. If you average us out. 

Cal 54:59

Yeah, sure. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 55:00

But we are a very segregated city. I can say that at least a third of the people that I've invited to be guests at this event have been black people. 

And, you know, and some of them rather close to me. 

Cal 55:19


Laura Lyster-Mensh 55:20

And it's been really hard to make that happen. 

Cal 55:24


Laura Lyster-Mensh 55:25

I think one insight that I have that maybe people who don't have black family and friends as much is that I understand why it is, you know, being being called in feels sometimes like you're being a representative know, I think it's mixed spaces that suffer. And I think that has to do with the male male female thing too. 

Cal 55:50

Yeah. This is. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 55:51

No matter, you know, I could work really hard, I could work harder. And I do puzzle about how do I make this space, a place that is as queer is interesting to male people as it clearly is for certain kinds of women. This is something I've struggled with all my life I wish more people had. Here's what I wish. I wish everyone was struggling with it and wondering about it. I think people kind of freeze up when they think about the topic and then when it doesn't work for them, when you can't just instantly or even after long work be trusted that you have, that you understand why that is. And it's not. You know. 

Cal 56:38

I wish we. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 56:39

I think the last couple of years have been years that where people who didn't usually struggle with this are struggling and they feel, you know, they're going to overboard with it sometimes in some really maybe not dysfunctional ways but I'm so happy that people are struggling. This is this is my answer to you is that all my life I have felt as if people aren't struggling enough. This they're living comfortably in their in their in their silos. And that's not just, you know, middle class white people. People are comfortable where they are. And it's going to take a lot to coax them out. And I feel like, you know, the whole George Floyd moment and it's turned out to be more of a moment than a, you know, long term change. No, no surprise. 

Cal 57:24


Laura Lyster-Mensh 57:26

It did bring people into the knowledge that maybe I should feel uncomfortable with my comfort here. 

Cal 57:31

Right? No, it's true. But like, coax them out and keep them out. Like, that's the trick. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 57:37

It's going to take a lot. You know, I'm I you know, my family has been talking about black men being shot by police since I was a child. Yes. This is not in there's nothing new about about that moment. But for some reason, right during that during COVID, young people and not just, you know, the the black adjacent people, but people of all stripes started to take it seriously as their own problem. 

Cal 58:03


Laura Lyster-Mensh 58:04

And so I'm I'm here to acknowledge that I have not solved racism. I have not solved. 

Cal 58:08


Laura Lyster-Mensh 58:09

Spaces. I have not I cannot make myself into someone who can magically, perfectly integrate spaces. And here in DC, a very segregated place where there's a great deal of suffering in the black community. And that's not, you know, that's not maybe not even overnight, but maybe not doable. 

Cal 58:31


Laura Lyster-Mensh 58:32

But I will I will say this. My mom came to one of our events and she does exactly what I do is go into a room and you count. 

Cal 58:41


Laura Lyster-Mensh 58:42

And she was pleased with the count. She, she, she immediate. She's a teacher. And she immediately said, you know, this was a pretty mixed and she was talking, you know, multidisciplinary. She wasn't just talking about race. She was talking about the mix of of types of people who came in. But I really do think that because it's staff, because it's a public place and because we're, you know, the topics and we're growing knowledge among people who will bring other people. 

Cal 59:15


Laura Lyster-Mensh 59:15

That we are moving towards a more diverse group. I will I will say it congressional does a pretty good job at this in general. 

Cal 59:26


Laura Lyster-Mensh 59:26

As these things. 

Cal 59:27


Laura Lyster-Mensh 59:28

Congressional, you know, staff wise, participant wise, burials wise, I think it's it it is really and actually a DC place. But you know, generations of of not doing that well. 

Cal 59:46


Laura Lyster-Mensh 59:48

But but moving forward, I think you'd find the cemetery community and participants and staff refreshingly progressive in a lot of ways and not just performative Lee, if that makes sense. 

Cal 1:00:03

It does make sense. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:00:05

And we're all doing our best. 

Cal 1:00:09

Yeah. Are we? I mean, that's another, another topic. But it's. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:00:14


Cal 1:00:14

Yeah. You, you. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:00:17

I'm, I know I'm doing my best. Yeah, yeah, I acknowledge, I acknowledge that I'm. I'm that I will and am continually failing at it it at the level that I would like it to be. 

Cal 1:00:29

Yeah sure. Yeah. That makes sense. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:00:32

But we live in in in a real world where people are still making baby steps. I feel like I'm helping people make baby steps on the death thing. I sit with dying people here in the city, mostly ones who have, you know, very little and, and the staff and the people are mostly ward seven and eight people. 

Cal 1:00:53


Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:00:54

So in the world of, you know, the segregated world of health care. 

Cal 1:00:58


Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:00:59

If you see it when you're in a hospital. 

Cal 1:01:02

Yeah. Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:01:03

And I wish there were more volunteers and you know, more we could use, like we could use more people to, to do that and to be with. And it's one of those rare opportunities where you see black and white people together. 

Cal 1:01:22


Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:01:23

And, you know, I go around the city and mostly most spaces are pretty segregated. But the death part here in the city is is less so. 

Cal 1:01:34


So I mean, another it was another thread through these health care conferences that I've been attending is is really health care waking up which like it just makes me shake my head to the revelatory idea that connecting directly and meaningfully with the lived experience of people who aren't represented in the health care workforce, at least in sort of like the the physician workforce that like to to do right by black communities and brown communities and communities that show up disproportionately in the poor outcomes column. We have to go into those places and then shut up and that this is, you know, like health care is like, hey, I had this idea and everybody's like, that's such a great idea. And it's like, Oh my gosh, you guys okay, I'm glad you're getting it. Let's just go with the momentum of this. And so, you know, it's exciting to me that that to whatever degree there is a mixed group of folks showing up to talk about death, because I really believe that, like a lot of our disconnection is about our fear of death and that when we actually can be with death as the equalizer that we so glibly call it, other walls come down and when we really are honest about how little time we have, we we're less invested in the squabbles that keep us separate. So I feel like in some basic way what you're doing is, is addressing these more pressing and nuanced issues. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:03:05

Well, if people want to get involved with, like for example, death doulas and life and death care and volunteering and hospice and that sort of thing, if you do so in the city, there's so many opportunities. But you will face. 

Cal 1:03:21


Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:03:21

The race and cultural and problems in the city head on which we should be doing because it when health care is where we see you know, in this city the the segregation is really strong also that the people caring for people in hospitals, you know, where that goes racially and culturally, language wise, immigration. So if you're going to get into deaf care in D.C., you will need to think more deeply about where you are on these very issues because they're going to be right in your face. And if they're not, you're not doing it right. 

Cal 1:04:01

Yeah, And there's there's not a lot of attention. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:04:04

There's not a lot of money in serving the mountain of people who are dying in the city. Yeah. From, you know, all kinds of preventable, preventable illnesses and violence. You can't become a death worker in DC and walk away from the realities of what we're living. You know, what our community is, is experiencing and suffering from. So I invite people to do that, but not not because it's going to, you know, be a lot of incense and and and well paid. But just because people are suffering and we could be helping them. 

Cal 1:04:42


Corey 1:04:44

I think it's funny that a massage is not also not a lot of incense and well paid. 

Cal 1:04:49


yeah indeed shocking similarities I. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:04:57

Think that the death care world or that death to the world it has to walk in the footsteps of people of the massage world, of several other caring, active things that now are incorporated in many ways into health care. 

Cal 1:05:15


Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:05:16

We got to get them paid, we got to get people in, we got to get training. And like you said, people can't just swan into death beds and and be very helpful if they have not really done their work. 

Cal 1:05:27


Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:05:28

I love the word swan. I just want to. 

Cal 1:05:30

Say it's so evocative. That's exactly what it is. Yeah. Rings back and just coasting in. I'm here. Yes. Jared, you've 

so obviously we could talk with you for so much longer. I was there. If you were going to tell people like who are interested in this or just. Yeah, who are interested in this, like if you, like, read this book or watch this documentary or like, what are the things that you're like every human should would benefit by experiencing this piece of art or like. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:06:08

Yeah, no, this is it. If there's one thing that I've seen have the most impact on the most people, Yeah, I was writing their own obituary. 

Cal 1:06:16

Mm hmm. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:06:17

For for several reasons. 

Cal 1:06:19


Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:06:20

Mostly because you to confront your own death. 

Cal 1:06:24

Uh huh. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:06:25

Kind of think about that. But also your relationships. 

Cal 1:06:28


Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:06:29

And your legacy. Yeah. So I've seen people actually change their life in small ways after writing their own obituary. 

Cal 1:06:39

Yeah. So. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:06:40

And people love to talk about themselves. So I start with I always think, start with that. Start with something that's practical. Write your own obituary and think about how it makes you feel about your relationships, your legacy, your, you know, your. 

Cal 1:07:01

Who are you? Yeah. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:07:03

And see if you're aligned with the values that you want to live your life. 

Cal 1:07:07

Mm hmm. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:07:08

I think that's really could be transformative. That's the one thing it's not. There are many good books. There are many wonderful trainings. There are people to know. But I would start with the personal journey, just like kind of you intimate it before that personal journey with your own mortality is an important first step to involving yourself with other people's deaths. 

Cal 1:07:30


Thank you so much. Thank you. This is Fresh Air. Our listeners are everywhere. But listeners, if you're anywhere near the DC metro area, you have a few weeks left to experience death Doula Saturdays and the most alive cemetery with the cutest dogs and the most amazing death doula and residents. So check that out if you are anywhere nearby, well worth the drive. If you're just even within like an hour or 2 hours of the D.C. area, just make a day of it and come start at the cemetery and then see where it leads you. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:08:04

And we will be doing Death Doula activities next year. It just will be in a different we'll be using a different way of doing it. 

Cal 1:08:12

But cool. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:08:13

Come on down. We always want you to come in. I'm available by appointment or at our events. 

Cal 1:08:20

Excellent. Thank you so much for what you're doing and for sharing it with us today. 

Laura Lyster-Mensh 1:08:25

Thank you. Thank you for what you're doing. 

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