So what’s a Death Café?
On Friday April 26th CIC is partnering with the Indiana Pagan Community Outreach & Dialogue to put on a Death Café. It’s a chance to eat cake, drink tea, and talk about death civilly … because increased awareness of death means a more fulfilling life.
What is a Death Café? Well, October 2017 saw the third Death Café CIC hosted with Indiana Pagan Community Outreach and Dialogue. The Indy Star reports on the experience. (For another perspective, see Theresa Stetter’s “A report from a Death Café: No need to be afraid.”)
“Doomsday coffee klatch: Step inside the ‘Death Cafe’ (and try the skull cake),” Will Higgins, Indianapolis Star December 13, 2017.
The 62-year-old hospice chaplain was in the right place. He was at a “Death Cafe,” a coffee klatch where the topic is death. The event was held in the dining room of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, 1100 W. 42nd St., on a Friday night a couple months ago.
Two dozen people attended. They were middle-aged and younger. They seemed in good health. They clearly were not near the end. They sat at round tables, five or six to a table, and drank tea and coffee and consumed baked goods, including vegan-friendly cookies and a chocolate cake decorated to look like a skull. Admission was $5.
“This is not grief counseling,” announced Vanessa Mize, treasurer of Indiana Pagan Community Outreach and Dialogue, which co-sponsored the Death Cafe with CIC, as things were getting underway. “We’re not a funeral home, we’re not selling you cemetery plots. We just want to facilitate a lively discussion on death. Let’s all thank Maggie for the beautiful skull cake.”
Maggie was thanked then it was on to death, a subject that doesn’t get talked about openly because it makes people uncomfortable.
The first Death Cafe was held in 2011 at a house in East London. It was inspired by the ideas of a Swiss sociologist named Bernard Crettaz, author of the 2010 book “Cafés Mortels: Sortir la Mort du Silence (Death Cafes: Bringing Death out of Silence).”
“Our objective,” writes Jon Underwood, who hosted the first event and is credited with founding the Death Cafe movement (there’s no paid staff, there’s only a website), “is to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”
In the past six years there have been 5,507 Death Cafes in 52 countries, according to the deathcafe.com, which publishes an online guide to hosting a Death Cafe. Anyone can host one. There’s no fee.
The first Death Cafe in the U.S. was in 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. By 2014 Death Cafes had started popping up in Indiana, in Jeffersonville, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
“Death is not this big scary thing,” said Viet Le, who leads a meditation class at an eastside Buddhist temple. “Everyone does it. It’s part of a normal life. But it’s been tucked away in a scary corner.”
“There are families that don’t even take their children to funerals,” said Brendan, who figures that in his 14 years of hospice work he has witnessed some 50 deaths.
Mize hosted her first Death Cafe in 2016 and has hosted two since. “We’re doing them twice a year,” she said. “The next one will be in April.”
At her most recent Death Cafe, the conversation alternated between the spiritual and the practical and the societal.
“People talk about ‘fighting’ cancer,” said Tony Wiederhold, 38, who works in manufacturing for Eli Lilly and teaches yoga on the side. “The implication is you didn’t have strong enough will. You died because you didn’t try hard enough. But it’s not your fault if you die of cancer.”
“Death has been so sterilized,” said Mike Messer, a 32-year-old call-center worker.
A lot of people won’t even say the word, said Wiederhold. “We use euphemisms,” he said.
Do we ever. In a recent, randomly selected Indianapolis Star obituary section, 27 people passed away, five either went home to be with their Lord and Savior or else joined their Lord and Savior.
Only two were said to have actually “died.”
Viet Le said he wanted to be wide awake for his death and aware of what was happening. “I want to die with a clear mind,” he said.
“Awareness of death,” said Brendan, “is the secret of life.”
Tags: death, death cafe, pagans