Getting to Know Tio Houston

Tio photoTio Houston serves as the co-chair for the Programming Committee. He brings joy, inspiration, and an eye for strategy to making this special event possible. Tio is also a clinical social worker with more than 20 years of counseling experience. He helps people resolve their difficult life challenges, transitions and losses. He promotes reclaiming our personal role in providing death care for our loved ones. He is a hospice volunteer and facilitates Death Cafes to engage people in talking about death in an easy setting.

We had the opportunity to ask Tio some questions about his role in Death:OK, life, death, and music.

How did you know that you wanted to be part of making Death:OK happen?

I wanted to help make Death:OK because it’s a wonderful opportunity to be part of the most important conversation most of us aren’t having. Our culture has tried to push dying into the shadows over the past 100 years or so. Isn’t it amazing that we talk so little about something that is inevitable for every one of us? I witnessed my father’s dying in 2007 and was stunned by how unprepared I was and how unprepared he was. This conference provides a place to listen and experience and join in. So many different offerings from talented people!

You are an amazing storyteller; do you have plans to share some stories in a public way in the future?

I love a well-told story, and I love to tell them. (I like my alternative ending to “’Hansel and Gretel”.) I’m sharing a story during the “Theatre of Remembering” session at Death:OK; it’s a piece about burying my dad. I’m looking forward to having some time later this fall  (after the conference!) to explore more telling and more listening. Wanna join me?

How has your many years as a therapist informed your views on “talking about it”?

Most people come to therapy hoping to heal something or change something that’s become too heavy to carry. We sometimes try to ignore a part of ourselves, hoping it’ll go away on its own. Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re carrying, but we still feel its weight. Death holds a lot of fear, anger, powerless and confusion. When we look carefully and courageously at it, we have less to carry.

If the Threshold Choir were to sing for you on your deathbed, is there a particular song or songs that you would want them to sing?

I’d love to have Threshold Choir sing for me! Two songs come quickly to mind. The first is a song I’ve been singing since I was a young man: “Door of My Heart”, written by guru Paramahansa Yogananda. It opens my heart every time I sing it. The second song is “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. “Rise up this morning, Smile with the rising sun, Three little birds by my doorstep, Singing sweet songs of melodies, pure and true. Singing: Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right.” It would give me ease and courage.

What recommendations do you have for folks that would like to further their own investigation of dying and death with like-minded folks in the community?

What comes to mind first is The Conversation Project. The website has a lot of good suggestions and tools for talking about death with other folks. I suggest beginning with friends. (

Another good source is Death Café, an informal conversation about death. The website, has a description about Death Café and how to set one up. There are Death Cafés offered in Portland.

Sharing books and articles with people you know is another way. I recently read “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande.

How would you define a “good death”?

This is the Big Question, isn’t it? For me, a good death is to be fully engaged with my dying: the painful, the peaceful, the tender, the terrifying. To be as completely present with the experience as possible. It’s like playing music or singing. Sometimes you’re really into the song and you get absorbed in it; it’s wonderful. Sometimes there’s a bad note or a stumbled rhythm. Sometimes you don’t know what comes next, yet the song goes on.

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