Storyteller tackles fear of death and dying

Allison Cox will share stories about the end of life this Sunday at the Land Trust Building.

Storyteller and islander Allison Cox will join the organizers of Vashon’s “Let’s Talk About Living and Dying” group for an event from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 5, in the Land Trust Building.

Cox has told lyrical, humorous, folk and personal stories to audiences across the U.S. and Canada for 37 years, according to organizers of the event. She is a co-founder of the National Storytelling Network’s Healing Story Alliance and organizes yearly events for the Seattle Storytellers Guild.

Cox said her background as a therapist, social worker, health educator and prevention specialist has shaped her perspective on the subjects of death and dying.

“I think [facing death is] one end of the continuum of having a healthy life,” she said, “to do it without so much fear.”

The stories Cox will share at Sunday’s event are intended to challenge those who attend with difficult but important questions while using techniques she has learned throughout her career. Those include therapeutic metaphor, which uses storytelling to help people understand a story’s meaning in different ways. Cox added that storytelling often has the same effect on audiences as hypnotic suggestion does, influencing the subconscious mind.

“The thing about telling stories is that they are not scary to people,” she said, adding that some are often intimidated by the concept of hypnosis because they believe she will instruct them to embarrass themselves. But Cox noted that is not the purpose of the stories she will tell.

“The goal as a storyteller, just like a hypnotherapist, is that we all go on this journey together, and we all come back safely together,” she said. “It’s a way to let go of the mind that’s too busy saying, ‘Wait, that doesn’t make sense.’ It’s the unconscious mind that runs the show.”

Cox will share two personal stories with the group — one inspired by her travels in Mexico as a teenager climbing to the top of a Mayan pyramid, and the other about her adult life in Washington. She will also tell two traditional stories, one from India and another from Scotland about a visit from death.

“Our stories tell us who we are,” she said. “Who knows how [the stories] will resonate with the people who are listening?”

Jane Neubauer, co-facilitator of the group, said Cox is adept at using the power of storytelling to make universal points about specific issues.

”I think she’s going to bring a different approach,” she said, adding that it is the goal of the group to diversify its offerings and host more participants of all backgrounds and ages.

The event on Sunday is the latest program of the Vashon Conversation for the Living about Dying, which recently presented the last in a series of documentary films shown at the Land Trust, “End Game” and “Extremis,” both of which chronicle the decisions of patients, families and healthcare providers at the end of life.

“This is a place to come and openly discuss anything on your mind related to aging, but also, there will be people to help you begin to work on specific issues related to end of life,” she said. Those who attend can opt to receive individual help from professionals specializing in the work of preparing end of life affairs.

Islander Kim Eckhardt, a physical therapist and the group’s newest co-facilitator, said her work and family life have both exposed her to a wealth of knowledge about aging, which she has gained as she grows older herself.

“The concept of death is scary to people. I’m trying to encourage a broader conversation,” she said. “It’s all hitting home [to me] to start thinking about what’s important and not waiting [to discuss death].”

Eckhardt said she hopes young adults, particularly, will not be turned off by the subject of death or by participating in dialogue about it, but rather be inspired to process what it means without fear.

“I’ve felt like every time I’ve had one of these conversations, not only do I leave inspired … but I leave aware of a different meaning of life.”

This version of the story corrects Allison Cox’s comments on hypnotic suggestion as related to storytelling.

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