2019 - May - The Daily News - Huntingdon

By: Jackie Hook
Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Death Cafés

Each spring I am surprised by the vivid colors that appear in the plants and trees. You would think that having experienced many Pennsylvania springs in my lifetime, I would be used to this process. But as the beautiful colors start to show, I’m swept away by the process. I wonder if part of the reason is our Central Pennsylvania winters which are often devoid of colors except for shades of brown and grey for months on end.

We lived in Orlando for 13 years and know what it is like to have one seemingly continuous summer season. Granted, Florida does have its fall, winter and spring too – there are slight differences in temperature, plantings, and activities -- however, those differences are minor compared to Happy Valley partly because you had many colors throughout the year in the south.

So when we moved back up north, I was one of those people who realized, “I missed the seasons.” I love the surprises I feel in the spring when each new day adds more life and color.

The work I do is a lot like the seasons. I companion people during “winters” of their lives – times when they’ve lost loved ones and aren’t seeing or feeling as much life or color. I do that because I trust that if they allow themselves to journey through the “winter” in their own time and in their own way, they too will again begin to experience “spring.” I’ve seen this pattern play out countless times.

I also companion people when they are simply holding “winter” before themselves and considering issues about death. We do this in a seize-the-day kind of way. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “When it comes time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived." By looking at “winter” it helps us find “spring” in our every days – finding the color and living fully now.  

One opportunity to look at your “winter,” is the newly formed Death Café. 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 hierarchies. “We all meet simply as people who are going to die.” A Death Café is not a bereavement support or grief counseling group.

Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz began the world-wide Death Café movement in 2004 when he created Café Mortels as a place to speak honestly about death. In his book about "bringing death out of silence,"Cafés Mortels: Sortir la Mort du Silence, Crettaz 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."

Inspired by Crettaz’s work, Jon Underwood hosted the first Death Café in September 2011 in his home in Hackney, East London and then in 2012, Lizzy Miles brought the concept to Columbus, Ohio. Since its beginnings, more than 8,000 Death Cafés have been held in 65 countries.

To be 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 Bookstore and Café, 133 E. Beaver Avenue in State College, is generously offering the meeting space and complimentary desserts. Upcoming dates for Death Café are the following Mondays: May 20, June 17 and July 15, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. I think people who attended our first Death Café would agree with Underwood’s statement, “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." Please join us.

If you have lost a loved one, you are also invited to join us at the following upcoming events:

  • Stories of Loss: A Grief Education and Support Group, Wednesdays, May 15 through June 19 from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Juniper Village at Brookline, 1950 Cliffside Drive, State College – When we lose a loved one, having support helps us on our healing journey. It is powerful to realize we are not alone and to learn how others make it through. In this Grief Education and Support Group, we’ll discuss grief and mourning, have opportunities to share our own stories, if desired, and be among others who have experienced a loss. Adults of all ages are welcome – intergenerational support is a powerful healer too. Please RSVP to Brenda Kim at (814) 235-2010.
     
  • Monday’s Moments Complimentary Luncheon – “Grief. Companions Come in Many Forms,” Monday, June 3 from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott, 1730 University Drive, State College – Having companions with us on our grief journeys is incredibly helpful. And these companions come in many shapes and sizes, for example, loved ones, friends, support group members, mental health professionals, clergy members, spiritual directors, pets and other animals. At this gathering, we’ll discuss the importance of grief companions and the variety of places to find them. Please email Jackie@JackieHook.com, call 814-404-0546 to RSVP by Wednesday, May 29.
     
  • Monday’s Moments Complimentary Luncheon – “Life Goes On, How Do You?” Monday, July 1 from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott, 1730 University Drive, State College – In some traditions and cultures, you wear particular types of clothing to let others know you have lost a loved one. With these designations, others recognize that you may feel like your world has stopped. Our culture let go of many of these traditions. At this gathering, we’ll discuss ways to care for yourself as the rest of the world experiences life as usual. Please email Jackie@JackieHook.com, call 814-404-0546 to RSVP by Wednesday, June 26.

These events are open to the public. For additional information, please visit the John B. Brown Funeral Home website and click on the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal Community Outreach Events.

We hope you find colors in your life!

Jackie Hook, MA, is a spiritual director and celebrant.  She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through John B. Brown and Koch Funeral Homes.  For more information, please call 814-643-1256 or visit www.johnbbrownfuneralhome.com.

 

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