Ned Buskirk is a writer, creator, educator and producer who lives and works in San Francisco, California. His most recent and most ambitious project to date is You’re Going to Die, (YG2D) a creative movement that brings people together at different venues throughout the city and on social media to share their feelings about death and bereavement.
Debra: Ned, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. Can you tell me a bit about You’re Going to Die?
Ned Buskirk: Thank you, Debra. You’re Going to Die – also known as YG2D – is a program designed to help people deal with their thoughts, feelings and needs surrounding death and grief. We are active on social media and we have at least two open mic nights every month. People express themselves in all kinds of ways – through writing, poetry, quotations, music, drawing and simply talking. It’s amazing how many ways people find to address the topic of death. Once the taboo is removed, the creativity really flows. Our mission statement is:
Bringing people together creatively into the conversation of death and dying, while helping to inspire and empower them out of the context of unabashedly confronting loss and mortality.
Debra: How did you get interested in the subject of death?
Ned: In 2003 when I was 26, my mother died of cancer. She had been sick for at least half my childhood. Even though I knew she was ill, I had very few opportunities to talk to her or to anybody else about it. My mother-in-law also died young from cancer. I decided to go to grief counseling and began attending a group with other people dealing with the death of a parent.
About that time, I decided to get my master’s degree in English literature. My wife and I moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I was in a community improv group with other students and residents of the city.
We started an open mic to provide a place for people to share what they needed to say about their feelings having to do with death. Some people wanted to talk about their own impending deaths. Others wanted to talk about loved ones such as parents, children, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, friends and grandparents.
Debra: The topic of death can really put some people off. Did you have any trouble getting people to come?
Ned: At first I had trouble even saying the name of the program, let alone explaining what we do. The easier it got for me to explain our mission, the more people started to show up. You’re Going to Die gave people a chance to talk about death – a subject rarely discussed in our culture.
When I talk to people about You’re Going to Die, they can usually tell if it’s something that would be helpful for them at that time in their lives or not. For instance, we’ve found that it’s often better to wait for a while after the death of a loved one before attending a YG2D open mic. For newly bereaved people, it can be a bit overwhelming.
Debra: You’ve said that much of your programming is open mic. Are people pretty open to sharing?
Ned: It’s funny. The church where we do our open mics holds about 70 people. Usually six or seven people sign up to get on the stage initially. Once the program has started, though, and the people in the audience realize they have something to share, too, almost everyone wants a turn on stage. Often all you have to do to get people to talk about death is to bring up the subject in a supportive manner.
Tune in next week for part two of my interview with Ned Buskirk.