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'Death Cafe' Aims To Bring Life To Dark Discussions

By Rachel S. Karas, The Frederick News-Post, Md.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 05--Kriste Kidd, a hospice worker and student in the thanatology master's program at Hood College, will work with her colleagues to bring Frederick its first Death Cafe on Saturday.

The informal discussion group plans to cover everything from last wills and estate planning to healthy ways to deal with grief -- breakfast snacks included.

What's the idea behind a Death Cafe?

It's basically an international movement to increase awareness of death. It started in England and came over to America ... it's just really simple. Death is the most important conversation that America's not having. An event is an opportunity for community members to join and discuss important topics relating to death.

Walk me through how this one will work.

About 34 people already committed to attend. We will have four facilitators, either being thanatology professors or thanatology students. We'll divide attendees into four groups. ... If there's a lull in the conversation, there are conversation starters that they can pick written on Popsicle sticks.

Kind of keeping with the British customs of tea and cookies, coffee and cookies and mini muffins (will be served). ... Typically Death Cafes have some kind of death-related symbolism in their cakes. ... It sounds morbid, but it's all in lightheartedness.

Give me an idea of what questions would be asked.

What were you taught about death when you were younger? Do you believe in life after death? How do you feel about organ donation? Do you have a bucket list? Thoughts on burial versus cremation? What about death scares you? Would you want to know the date and time of your own future death? Define a good death; define a bad death.

How can Frederick County benefit from a death cafe?

I think anyone can benefit from attending. Working in the hospice industry, you encounter families so many times who are not prepared for the death, even if it's an impending death. ... As we discuss death and accept death as part of our life cycle, it's helpful to enjoy your life.

What's the most meaningful experience with death you've had?

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With my grandfather, I was at his bedside when he took his last breath. He was at the Kline Hospice House and it was really a powerful experience for me, having (studied) thanatology ... and understanding how his body was shutting down and getting to share my last thoughts.

You say Death Cafe is "not bereavement support or recommended for those who have recently suffered a loss." Why?

This is an informational conversation. It's not intended to be a bereavement support group. None of us are bereavement counselors. ... We ask that attendees not have had a significant recent loss to make it more possible to communicate about death without it being highly emotional.

What makes you a good facilitator for this discussion?

As many classes as I've taken revolving around death and dying, I have a good wealth of knowledge ... as far as death with a life-threatening illness and traumatic death ... talking about death with the elderly and children, in different life stages ... we even had a class on facilitating support groups.

Oh? What'd you learn from that course? Sounds useful for something like this.

Just how to keep the conversation flowing and try to have it equally shared. If you have someone who's dominating the conversation, using tactics to redirect it ... and stay on topic.

What do you think people should better understand about death?

We plan more for a vacation, more for college, weddings and baby showers and not all of those are a guarantee. The plane might be canceled ... the baby, there might be a miscarriage; marriage, there might be last-minute changes; college, "oh, I decided not to go, sorry Mom and Dad." But death is a guarantee and we don't take time as a society to prepare for the inevitable. It really is a gift to our loved ones not to have the burden of making final arrangements ... on top of this huge loss of a life. Just because you talk about sex doesn't make you pregnant, right? Just because you talk about death doesn't mean you're going to die right away.

Follow Rachel S. Karas on Twitter: @rachelkaras.


(c)2014 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

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