Death Cafe and talking to strangers

“how not to be real”

Death CafeBack in 2018, I wrote about a concept called the Death Cafe. Here’s the website

“At a Death Cafe people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives”

Although I only attended a single event in person, I’ve been to about a half dozen sessions remotely. I’ve even facilitated a couple of breakout sessions since one wants no more than 4-6 people in a given virtual room.

The last session organized by the Albany group in may had people from New York City and central Europe. It is one of those rare events that, arguably, might be enhanced by Zoom.

One relays stories, largely to strangers, which is oddly therapeutic. I might tell of some specific disappointment about an absence at a recent funeral. It might be easier to share the story there than in this blog.

Food

I could talk about the tons of food that were brought to my parents’ house after my father died in August 2000. I specifically remember that someone came by at 10:30 pm, my mother looking exhausted from the day.

Conversely, almost no food was brought to my MIL’s house in April 2020 after my FIL died. It wasn’t just different norms between North Carolina and upstate New York, plus the passage of time. There was a pandemic, so the extended family wasn’t at her home. On the other hand, a pair of my wife’s friends brought us some food, delivered appropriately in a socially distanced manner.

Back in 2012, Jaquandor reviewed Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie by Beth Howard. It’s a lovely reflection, which you should read.

Ken Levine on the sudden death of his friend Arlen Peters: “Order the pie.  You never know.”

My  May 31 post has a few more examples.

AmeriNZ

One of those food narratives was linked from Arthur’s blog, He’s been writing a LOT about death, bravely and quite insightfully. For instance, he wrote about people being very good actors. “We learn what to say, how not to say things, and how to present ourselves in a way that the people in our lives expect. We learn, in other words, how not to be real.”

Or finding the right words. “I’ve seen many people dealing with profound grief who say that they stop talking about their grief journey because they sense that the people they talk to don’t want to hear about it, or else they’re visibly uncomfortable. In such cases, the grieving person will, essentially, adopt what they see as the socially expected behavior: Silence.”

And there are others.

My point in linking to these is that talking about issues surrounding death doesn’t glorify death. It contextualizes death in this world rather than making it a verboten topic.

If you’re so inclined, check out a Death Cafe. There will be an in-person one (finally) in Albany County very soon.

Death Cafe Flyer June. 30 2021

Death Cafe- drink tea, eat cake, discuss dying

What is the Meaning of Death?

At work, I took a question over the phone from one of our business advisors in the field, about a client wanting to become a funeral director. I asked the advisor if she was familiar with the Death Cafe, She was not.

“At a Death Cafe people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

While Death Café is not a grief support group, it does offer a safe space to openly discuss thoughts, feelings, and experiences regarding dying and death. Death Cafés help us move toward being “a society that mindfully accepts dying and death as a part of everyday life.”

As I’ve mentioned, I had attended the first Death Cafe event in Albany in January 2018, and while I had not had a chance to go to subsequent talks, I have been following the local group on Facebook.

As my work colleague discovered, I’ve been fascinated by the issues surrounding death, going back to the passing of my paternal grandmother in 1964 and maternal great aunt in 1966.

I was also influenced by a now-infamous individual, Bill Cosby, who, in one of his routines, told us that when one dies, a person could be rigged up so that each time a mourner passes his open coffin he sits up and says, “Don’t I look like myself?” It’s funnier in context.

Cosby indirectly got me to read, when I was a young teenager, the landmark book The American Way of Death, “an exposé of abuses in the funeral home industry in the United States, written by Jessica Mitford and published in 1963.”

The next gathering of Death Cafe Albany will be at The Chapel at Albany Rural Cemetery on Saturday, September 29th from 1-2:30 pm. Please bring your own mug. Tea and cold water will be provided.

Here are some links from the Death Cafe Albany site on Facebook:

Photos of love and loss

What is the Meaning of Death? This Man Has Some Words to Share with You

Green funeral

Mom died early Friday the 13th….finally

The Funeral and Cemetery Law Blog

The Death Café phenomenon

And here are some grief-related resources that someone sent me to share:

Preparing for the Death of a Terminally-Ill Loved One: What to Expect, and How to Help the Entire Family Move Forward

Symptoms of Major Depression and Complicated Grief

Guidelines for Helping Grieving Children

Coping With The Stigma of Grieving an Overdose Death

Grief & the Loss of a Pet

Grief At Work: A Guide For Employees and Managers

For ABC Wednesday

Death Cafe: Albany – Tuesday, January 23, 2018

No agenda or specific therapy, but most people find it helpful to be able to speak about a range of death-related things that many around us find upsetting or otherwise taboo.


Death Cafe: Albany (NY), taking place on Tuesday, January 23 from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Pine Hills branch of the Albany Public Library, 517 Western Avenue, is based on the Death Cafe tradition started by Jon Underwood in England in 2011. It will be facilitated by Melissa White, a hospice volunteer and an experienced educator and researcher.

There’s no need for any particular background, just having a interest in talking about death. No agenda or specific therapy, but most people find it helpful to be able to speak about a range of death-related things that many around us find upsetting or otherwise taboo.

Strangers meet in a safe place to eat baked goods, drink hot beverages, and talk freely about the taboo that we all experience. Read more about it here.

As my friend Amy, who’s been a hospice worker for 10 years, wrote: “Don’t let the title scare you. I see the value and importance of being able to talk about, plan, and discuss your thoughts about the final chapter of your life. Just like birth, it is a natural process, and while it comes with sadness, it can be a peaceful, beautiful and reverent time.”