2019 - March - Gazette - Death Café

By: Jackie Hook
Friday, March 29, 2019

Death Café

In November 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote these words, “…but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” These two certainties will be spotlighted on April 15, 2019, with IRS Tax Day and Happy Valley’s first Death Café. Tax Day takes place all day and the Death Café occurs from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Webster’s Bookstore Café at 133 East Beaver Avenue, State College.

As I talk to people about this upcoming Death Café, I get all kinds of reactions. A woman at a retirement community said the name sounded morbid. A colleague at an organizational meeting spoke about a topic she would like to discuss at a Café. Many others asked what it was and how it came to be.

According to www.deathcafe.com, the objective of a Death Café is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” With no agendas or themes, it is a group-directed discussion without expectations. A Death Café is not a bereavement support or grief counseling group and “there are no hierarchies. We all meet simply as people who are going to die.”

The world-wide Death Café movement began with the work of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. In 2004, Crettaz created Café Mortels as a place to speak honestly and listen to one another’s thoughts about death. In his book Cafés Mortels: Sortir la Mort du Silence, or "bringing death out of silence" he wrote, "I am never so in tune with the truth as during one of these soirées. And I have the impression that the assembled company, for a moment, and thanks to death, is born into authenticity." I think we can use more authenticity in our lives.

Inspired by the Café Mortel model, Jon Underwood hosted the first Death Café in his home in Hackney, East London in September 2011 and then Lizzy Miles brought the Cafés to the United States in 2012. Since their inception, more than 8000 Death Cafés have been held in 65 countries.

Here in State College, the Death Café started in a local grocery store. One day this winter, Elaine Meder-Wilgus of Webster’s Bookstore Café ran into my husband, John, and she shared that people had been asking her to hold a Death Café at Webster’s. John told Elaine that for some time, I had been talking about Death Cafés with others. After Elaine offered to host, F. Glenn Fleming, funeral director and supervisor of Koch Funeral Home, supported the idea and I volunteered to facilitate the gathering. We were on our way.

To be called a Death Café, it must be offered:

On a not for profit basis
In an accessible, respectful and confidential space
With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action
Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!

Webster’s is generously providing complimentary desserts and drinks.

We hope you will join us and begin to understand what Underwood meant when he said, “In my experience, when people talk about death and dying, all their pretenses disappear. You see people's authenticity and honesty among strangers. Although it might sound really weird and wonderful to say you attend a death cafe, it just feels very normal."

In addition to the Death Café, other upcoming events are:

  • Thankful, Thoughtful Thursdays, Thursdays, March 28, April 4, April 11, April 25 and May 2 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (including lunch) at the Bellefonte Senior Resource Center, 110 N. Spring Street, Bellefonte - Being thoughtful about the following topics can make us more thankful now: appropriate legal documents, hospice and what happens as we die, Have the Talk of a Lifetime, instructions to the funeral director and companioning ourselves and others through grief. You’re encouraged but not required to attend all sessions. RSVP to Vickey at 814-355-6720 by the Friday the week before the class.
     
  • Voices of Grief: Honoring the Sacred Journey, Sunday, March 31 from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, 867 Gray’s Woods Boulevard, Port Matilda - How can we be helpful to someone who is grieving? How do we move through grief ourselves? This critically acclaimed documentary helps answer these questions. Please join us for this important film and conversation. RSVP to Good Shepherd Catholic Church at 814-238-2110.
     
  • Monday’s Moments Complimentary Luncheon – “Find the Path by Walking It,” Monday, April 1 from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott, 1730 University Drive, State College - Grief is a wilderness we each navigate. At this gathering, we’ll discuss ways to find our unique paths by experiencing the grief. Email Jackie@JackieHook.com, call 814-404-0546 or sign up on the Koch Funeral Home Facebook page to RSVP by Thursday, March 28.

For more information about these programs, please visit the Koch Funeral Home website’s Bereavement Gatherings and Events section under the Local Resources tab. All of these events are open to the public and space is limited.

Jackie Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant and end-of-life doula.  She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College.  For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.

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