Friday, January 23, 2015

Death Cafés


       "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," goes the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin. I would add that death and taxes are two of the things that unite us all, except that some people don't pay their fair share of taxes, and some deaths are a lot easier than others.

       Facing death is something that every single person on earth has to do at one time or another, so you might say death helps to build bridges of oneness. In spite of the fact that we all face death, many avoid the topic at all costs. We avoid the words "death" and "died" by saying that someone has "passed" when they leave their earthly body. 

      If you've been to a cemetery burial recently you will have noticed the green covering over the open grave that's intended to shield families from the reality of the hole in the ground where their loved one's body will be laid. 

       Other ways that we avoid the reality of death include the embalmer's attempt to make a corpse appear to be alive, and the medical profession's attempts to keep patients alive long past their due dates.

       Because of the overwhelming reluctance of people to discuss death, in spite of the fact that we have to plan for its inevitability, life-cycle celebrants around the world have begun to host Death Cafés. A Death Café is a place where people gather to drink tea, eat cake, and talk about death. You can learn more about them at:

       I have yet to attend a Death Café, but the other night I participated in a teleconference where celebrants in widespread locations pretended to attend a Death Café together. Our leader, Charlotte Eulette, director of the Celebrant Foundation & Institute, asked us to imagine passing a "talking baseball" (instead of the traditional talking stick) as we took turns answering questions about death. This method worked well for a teleconference, but usually the facilitator of a Death Café does not present specific questions or topics. If you attend a Death Café participants will probably share whatever their thoughts and feelings may be. 

       I haven't decided whether or not I want to host a Death Café in Oneonta. It seems like a good idea, but one that will require a lot of planning and preparation. A Death Café might be a good way to promote a feeling of oneness among people in a community. And death is a topic of particular interest to life-cycle celebrants because we do create and perform personalized and meaningful celebrations of life in addition to the weddings and baby namings we are usually known for. 

       I believe that most people have unique beliefs and experiences about death and dying. This is why it's important that we have the opportunity to express our thoughts and feelings on the subject. And when it comes time to memorialize the life of a departed loved one, we should be able to do it with a ceremony that truly reflects who that person was and how they would wish to be remembered. Having a celebrant-led memorial service or celebration of life can be a good way to do this. 

For more on the conversation about death, see: Death with Cream and Sugar

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