Dying to Know Straight Talk about Death and Dying? Visit a Death Cafe

By on October 22, 2013
time for tea and cake

Dying to Know Straight Talk about Death and Dying? If you are like most people, you are not. Yet, there is a growing trend around the world where strangers are meeting in places to discuss end of life issues. Enter the world of  the Death Cafe.

As a nurse that has worked with the aging population for most of my life, I have come to be very open about death and dying. I am very comfortable discussing end of life issues. In fact, I was fired from a world class cancer center for discussing hospice and end of life with a young patient. She went on hospice the next day and was able to die at home, instead of at the cancer center. But, the facility could not allow anyone to discuss or even broach the subject of end of life. It would affect the research numbers and thus the  money these organizations depend on to help Big Pharma find a cure.

Rarely will you hear the words from your medical professional, ” we do not have to treat this condition. We can make you comfortable. What are your concerns about end of life issues?”

For decades, many have tired to shield our children from death and dying. When I was growing up, I remember a boy in my class and neighborhood died from leukemia. He was “laid out” in his living room instead of a funeral home. I remember the feelings of confusion and loss. That same year, I lost my maternal grandmother. I was 7 years old.

I come from a very large family, and we all gathered with our cousins and friends at the funeral for 3 days. There were children running around and everyone was there to pay their respects. Today, many do not know what to do at a funeral home or even support someone that has lost someone.

I know, from personal experience, that after the death of my mother, when I was in nursing school and the death of my oldest son, recently, people tend to avoid those with a recent loss, because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

It is no wonder then, that an entire generation of baby boomers avoids discussions about end of life. They have had so many previous generations resist talking about death. Baby boomers are a generation that has worked to acquire things. Giving up things  is not something many are familiar wit or know how to deal with loss. It therefore is a difficult concept for many boomers to leave life and everything behind.

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Dying to Know Straight Talk about Death and Dying

Dying to Know Straight Talk about Death and Dying

So, when I learned about the Death Cafes, it intrigued me.

The concept of the Death Café comes from the result of  studies by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. This was a concept Crettaz developed while working on a series of projects about death. This series is called Impermanence. The initial Death Cafe was opened in November 2010 when  the founder, Jon Underwood, in the UK, read about Crettaz’s work.

The gatherings, known as Death Cafes, provide a comfortable setting where death and end of life issues can be discussed , without being judged or shut down for bring up a taboo subject. Death and dying are taboo subjects that strike fear in and panic. Denial is a very strong coping mechanism many use, so they do not have to discuss end of life issues.

Death is as much a part of life, as birth. Organizer’s of Death Cafes say there is no agenda to a meeting. There are no organized speakers, just people getting together over coffee, to discuss death and become more comfortable with it. Many feel that it will enrich their lives and focus more on living life with more meaning.

Death Cafes are being developed all over the world. They are held in people’s homes, at a local meeting place and recently, one was held in a Georgia cemetery.

The topics can range from “why” does this have to happen this way?” to discussing the differences in how cultures deal with death, funerals and traditions. Many say that that may never be comfortable or at ease discussing end of life issues, but addressing things such as financial planning, memorial services, funeral planning and even suicide has opened up the line of communications with many. Having discussions about the last moments with loved ones, the possibility of an after life has made it easier for some to have the important discussions with their family members.

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It is important to understand that Death Cafes are not meant to offer counseling. Everyone is meant to draw there own conclusions about death and dying. Death Cafes are attracting people from all races, religions and ages. The average age attending a Death Cafe session is usually over 50 years of age, although all age groups are represented.

And while the sessions attract a wide range of religions, races and ages, organizers note there are more people 50 and above than in their 20s.

I love the fact that Death cafes are open to all topics. So many people want to share their experiences and now have a forum to do it. Many that are uncomfortable with talking about death, hear about supernatural aspects of death from some, to discussions about life after death. There are even moments when there is laughter about an experience. It is important that the discussions be open to all views and issues without judgement, regardless of religious teachings.

I am excited about the growth of Death Cafes. It is a forum that does not give firm answers, but, give everyone an opportunity to learn and overcome their fear of discussing this presently taboo subject, because no one gets out of this world alive.

Please share with me your thoughts on this subject.

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