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Tea, mortality are centerpieces at European-inspired Death Cafes

Group's lively discussions push through stigma

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

A movement that began in England in 2011 to give people a better outlook on death made its first leap across the pond to land in Columbus last summer.

The most recent Death Cafe, as such gatherings are known, was held earlier this month in Clintonville, with plans in the works for a December session in Gahanna.

"The objective of a Death Cafe is to create a safe place where people get together to talk about death and have tea and delicious food," Lizzy Miles, a social worker from Westerville who hosted the first one outside of the United Kingdom, wrote in a Kickstarter campaign.

"The purpose of having this event is to raise our death awareness with the view to make the most of the finite time we have left," Miles wrote.

People tend to deny death, said Linda Manley, a veteran emergency-room nurse from Clintonville who now coordinates the local Death Cafes.

"We do push it aside," she said. "We become very tongue-tied when somebody mentions death.

"But when you really get into the topic and have it open-ended, when you talk about death, you're really talking about life," Manley said.

"I would love to see more medical professionals in this, because I think this is a really positive movement."

The movement was started by a Swiss sociologist, Bernard Crettaz, who set up what he called Cafes Mortels, according to the website deathcafe.com.

The Facebook page of the Columbus Death Cafe states the gatherings are "pop-up events to facilitate open discussion about death and dying."

"It's just out on the table, whatever you want to talk about," Manley said. "You would be surprised at how much laughter there is in the room."

Word of mouth, Facebook and the Death Cafe website are the best ways for people to discover the next gathering close to them, Manley said.

The main site recently listed meetings of the movement in Chicago, San Antonio, San Diego, Houston, Chapel Hill, N.C.; Brisbane, Australia; Portland, Ore.; Ithaca, N.Y.; Traverse City, Mich.; Maple Ridge, British Columbia; Oxford, England; and dozens more.

"It's just sort of getting off the ground," Manley said. "People do need to have these conversations.

"If you want to die well, your family needs to know what you want. It's a very awkward, uncomfortable conversation to have with people.

"It really does make you stand back and take a look at life ... but in a positive way. I don't think talking about death takes away from hope," Manley said.

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