The Death Café Comes to Kearny Mesa

“The other day, I invited someone to join me in a conversation about death.  That someone scoffed.  They laughed.  They scowled.  I waited.  ‘That’s a little… creepy, don’t you think?’ They asked.  ‘I mean, how morbid can you be?  What’s WRONG with you?’”
Why I Talk About Death by Kate Brassington

Epiphanies happen, out of nowhere an “aha” moment, a flash of insight, a nudge from within.  And, when that spark of awareness flares-up, as it did for me – at a café focusing on death – I knew exactly what I had to do.

The Death Café is a social gathering of people who eat cake, drink coffee and talk about death. The goal: “To increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their finite lives.” In Southern California, these events are held in libraries, churches and other public venues. The time allotment is about two hours.

In 2010 Jon Underwood, a British self-proclaimed “death entrepreneur,” developed a series of projects about death, one being talking about death. Using the “café mortal” model developed by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, Jon created the Death Café. Since 2011, the Death Café has spread to 31 countries in North America, Europe and Australia, and has offered over 2,300 events, all on a volunteer basis.

I attended a Café in San Diego, at a public library.  In preparation, I went to their website: www.deathcafe.com.   The site included an entertaining six minute video by Kate Brassington.  The video, friendly in its presentation, with a young lady’s voice, and music playing in the background, addressed the issues surrounding death, directly.  For days after the viewing, the video lingered with me.

At the library, our facilitator, a professional hospice worker, described the Death Café concept. “It’s a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counseling session.”

We broke into two groups of four, all new to the experience, eager to talk.  To the question, why are you here? The answers were as different as the people in the room.  “I want to be able to discuss these issues with my aging father,” one woman stated. Another said, “I lost a child, made mistakes in dealing with the death process; I’m here to learn.”  And my response: “I’m not getting any younger, so I want to get comfortable with the whole concept of death – my death.”

In the center of our table a glass jar contained perhaps fifty strips of paper, each with a question. For example: “Do you remember the death of your first pet?  How did you deal with it?”  Or, “What should you say or not say to a friend who is facing death?” And “If you died today, do you want people reading your diaries?” A question was picked and read by one in the group. We went around the table giving our responses.  Two hours passed, feeling like ten minutes.

Between questions and answers I found myself dashing to the refreshment table – fresh strawberries, chocolate covered strawberries, pastries, coffee, tea, juice.  Food and drink are a part of the Death Café experience. Food, associated with significant events in life, like weddings and funerals, helped make the café experience comforting, as though we were in someone’s home, chatting about. . .  well, death.  By the end of the two hours, we had bonded as a group, and could have easily gone out to lunch afterwards to continue the conversation.

With only a few minutes remaining, out of nowhere I started talking about Wayne Dyer, the self-help pioneer who recently passed away at age 75. I’ve never read anything by Mr. Dyer, yet his comments about death had suddenly become profoundly important. He couldn’t wait, he said, “For this next adventure to begin and had no fear of dying.”

The following days I kept thinking about Dyer’s comments: “No fear of dying.” “No fear.” “No fear.” The epiphany.  I wanted that!  I wanted to embrace his philosophy.  When the time comes I want to say: “I have lived more than a full life; I contributed, and had great adventures. And now I’m ready, without fear; ready for death, ready for what lies ahead.”

In the coming days, there’s work to do.  Have I made a contribution? Am I living up to my potential?  Is the bucket list being honored? Are my affairs in order?

As I finish writing this piece, my thoughts drift back to the opening lines of Kate’s video: “And now, listen… Yes! … It’s morbid.  Yes, it’s disturbing.  It’s dark and twisted.  Yes, it’s morose.  But it’s not death I’m referring to, nor dying.  It’s the life and the living we submit ourselves to when we don’t allow death into the room.”

The Death Café will be offered on January 19, 2016 at the Sera Mesa–Kearny Mesa Public Library, 9005 Aero Drive. Start time 1:00 p.m.  For further information, please visit www.deathcafe.com

Robert Ross is a long time resident of Clairemont. When not writing or exercising, he enjoys travel and classical guitar.  He can be reached at sandiegoross@yahoo.com 

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