Serving up death talk and crumpets.

by Charlotte Eulette

At 85, my dad decided to die at the time and place of his “leaving.”  In other words, he took his death into his own hands. My dad and I were close, and I was with him when he talked about how he wanted to die and have his death wishes honored. The last and final gift we exchanged with each other took place after he died with a life celebration memorial ceremony before a packed room of family and friends whose stories about my dad were woven into the ceremony I presided over as his Celebrant and daughter.

Before we go any further, I’d like to ask if we could please use the word “die” and not the term “pass away.”  When we cease to live, we “die,” we do not “pass away”.  Thanks!

How many of you have spoken to your spouse, parents, or loved ones about what they want to have happen to them when they die, or even their thoughts about death?   

Ask yourself these questions: What are your thoughts about death? What deaths have you experienced in your life that define how you feel about dying? What are your fears or desires around your death?

These important questions are ones we can explore ourselves before we ask others about their thoughts. There is a great way to accomplish this exploration: by attending or hosting a Death Café in your town.  

About two years ago my colleague Jack Cuffari and I started the Essex County NJ Death Café.  We get together about five to six times a year with people from this area to simply talk about death. The purpose is to bring death out of the shadows, to offer a friendly place for conversation about our thoughts and beliefs surrounding death so that we can more fully live our finite lives.

Death Cafés are not bereavement or support groups, and they are not set up to sell anything or promote a way of thought. They are simply about people who are interested in getting together to listen to each other talk about death in a safe, non-judgmental environment where everything discussed is confidential.

Cafe de Morte (the first version of Death Café) was founded in Switzerland by sociologist Bernard Crettaz about 10 years ago, and has now become wildly popular worldwide.  There is extensive media coverage of the phenomenon – from Jon Underwood’s Death Cafe headquarter website to press about Death Cafes featured by NPR, the Huff, and New York Times. Mostly social workers, hospice workers, and Celebrants host Death Cafés.

The reason it’s called the Death Café is that it’s meant to make you smile, break down barriers, and make the subject of death more approachable. Cristina Simek from New Mexico says, “Our culture understands birthing but how about ‘deathing?’”

Who comes to these gatherings? Emergency room nurses, authors, clergy, social workers, Yoga professionals, obituary writers, teenagers, journalists, people who are dying, teachers, therapists and plain old folks like you and me, come to Death Café. And this is what some of them say about the experience:

“Even though I don’t know anyone here I feel close to them.  I’m not able to talk to my family about my death yet, but hopefully I may be able to so soon.”

“I’ll go talk with my parents to discuss their plans and maybe have a death café with my family members like this one.”

“My brother died years ago and nobody talked about it.  I’d like to open this conversation again with my family.”

“My spouse and I are gay and I want to make sure that when either of us die our wishes are honored, and I want to make sure the funeral home is gay friendly too.”

“My cat died but I could never express myself because I felt it was foolish to do so. It feels good now to do so.”

I don’t know what the heck happens after we die.  But I like talking about it now! Every Death Café is a learning experience and an opportunity to talk with my fellow humans about death. Talking about death is not about “closure” as we’re always told; it’s really about “opening”.  And maybe we should heed Peter Pan’s words to the wise and say, “Ahhh, Death! Life’s great final adventure!”

Want to know more about Death Café? Go here: http://www.deathcafe.com/p/what-is-death-cafe.html