My Death Cafe experience

Charlotte Eulette from the Celebrant Foundation

Dr. Norma Bowe, The Death Class

…and a few selfies

Call me crazy (and some do) but I’m fascinated with death topics and I love exploring them. The death industry isn’t like any other industry I’ve ever encountered. While most of us aren’t professional chefs, fashion designers or home decorators we’ll still watch a show, buy a magazine or chat with our besties about these topics. Could you imagine a world where death topics experienced the same popularity?

Enter the Death Cafe – a place where a small group of total strangers go out of their way to sit and talk about death…no judgement, no conclusions or agendas. This is free and completely run by volunteers.

Ok. So maybe the magazine thing is a stretch, but at least we’re talking…and buying books!

For year’s I’ve been fighting the uncomfortable look when I tell people about the funeral playlist on my iPhone – or even let them in on my secret life in the death space. I have a day job as a creative professional and I don’t get paid to blog or work on Heart2Soul so I don’t interact with people comfortable talking about death. I wonder how many times I’ve been “unfriended” because of the content I post on my Facebook page?

Since Lizzie Miles decided to host the first Death Cafe here in the US, I’ve been meaning to check it out (or even host one), but it never crawled to the top of my to-do list. Charlotte Eulette from the Celebrant Foundation (and Heart2Soul contributor) hosted one last night and I finally experienced it for myself.

A guest speaker

We were also honored to have Dr. Norma Bowe (the professor and subject of Erika Hayasaki’s book The Death Class) and two of her students in attendance. I love to hear about the inspirational stories behind the people who choose to enter into the death space and Dr. Bowe was no exception. She didn’t grow up pretending her Barbie dolls were death class teachers, visiting cemeteries and watching autopsies – it was a natural transition inspired by a series of deeply personal experiences. Her students talked about how the class changed their perspective on life and the “death talk” groundswell I’ve been waiting for felt like it was coming together last night.

I was surprised to see so many people there (you were right, Lizzie) – at least 25 different points of view and life experiences. I’m not sure what a typical Death Cafe might look like, but this one started “celebrant-style” with a meaningful gesture and group introduction. After we heard from Dr. Bowe and her students, there was a Q&A followed by a break where we were treated to a piece of cake and a copy of The Death Class (thank you Dr. Bowe!). One of her students serenaded us (and gave me goose bumps) then we broke into small groups where each person was asked to talk for 4 minutes and answer the question “Does death make us appreciate life?”. We ended with a closing ceremony and a few selfies (see enclosed pictures).

I know it’s not typical to have guest speakers at a Death Cafe, so this was a unique one – I will definitely go back to one of Charlotte’s Death Cafe’s and look for others to see how they differ.

If you are interested in hosting a death cafe or finding one near you, feel free to visit  the Death Cafe Facebook page or the Death Cafe website.

Death Cafe’s are not grief support groups

One note if you are considering attending a Death Cafe. This is a forum to have conversations about death. It’s not a grief support group nor is it meant for those in the “white heat of grief”. The host needs to meet certain requirements, but they are not required to have death or grief-related credentials.

If you are grieving, it’s important to talk about your grief in the right kind of environment. I’m enclosing a few pages on Heart2Soul where we compiled information about grief with links to resources. Feel free to recommend other links.

And to top it off – another great meet today!

As exciting as tonight was, this afternoon was no less thrilling when I met up with my other death-friendly, rock-star peep Joseph Primo (from Good Grief) where we ate Jersey-style at the diner and I demanded he become my latest BFF. He agreed, but I’m not sure he meant it. Joe is also the author of What Do We Tell the Children? A much needed book offering expert guidance on how to talk to kids about death and dying. Stay tuned for his newest book (due to release soon)!