Crows in a Row Workshops Make Planning Around End-Of-Life Moments Less Stressful

The Calgary company’s workshops tackle everything from anticipating the needs of loved ones during their grieving to creating an “ethical will” to leave to future generations.

Say you were to die tomorrow, what would you want your funeral to be like? If the question leaves you clueless or uncomfortable, then consider paying a visit to Janine Violini and Jamie Whittaker. The pair are the founders of Crows in a Row, a Calgary company that hosts workshops inviting people to integrate death into their life, making planning around end-of-life moments less stressful and more empowering.

Crows in a Row workshops range in length from two to 12 hours and tackle everything from anticipating the needs of loved ones during their grieving to creating an “ethical will” to leave to future generations.

An ethical will can be anything that’s had meaning for you in life that you want to share with descendants. Violini shares the story of her childhood ballet dress as an example: Her ballet teacher required students to wear a dress made with satin and sequins, materials her grandmother had never worked with before. Even so, Violini’s grandmother painstakingly hand-sewed the dress for her anyway. “I remember that all I could think was ‘she must love me so much,’” Violini says. “That ballet dress is my ethical will because it demonstrates in tangible, feeling material what a grandmother’s love is like.”

One of Violini and Whittaker’s goals with Crows in a Row is to improve what they call the “death literacy” of our community. They believe that removing direct death language from society and removing death from all aspects of our life has contributed to our fears of death. Crows tries to combat this by normalizing the use of the words “death” and “dying” and avoiding softer metaphors. “It’s hard for some people to hear the direct language, but we try to do it in a way that allows the conversation to go a bit further,” says Violini.

Much of Crows in a Row’s work happens through the sharing of personal stories to allow attendees to better understand their own relationship with death. Violini believes these emotional moments are an important part of increasing death literacy, bringing life back into the conversation about death.

“When we’re dealing with people who are sharing their emotions, it becomes a sacred space,” says Violini. “And there is nothing more life-giving than that kind of space shared in community.”

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This article appears in the October 2019 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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