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Death Cafe encourages healthy conversations about dying

Donna Wilson (left) and Dan Shoemaker, hosts of Death Cafe at the Chico Branch Library Monday night. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Participants in the Death Cafe discussed the often-taboo topic of death over drinks and snacks on Monday afternoon at the Chico Branch Library.

The monthly event, hosted by volunteers Donna Wilson, Stephen Kathriner and Dan Shoemaker, covered a variety of death-related topics. The topics covered not only the spiritual side of death, but also legal obligations including paperwork, property ownership and corpse disposal.

The Death Cafe model was developed by both Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid in East London, according to the Death Cafe website. The model is based on the ideas of Swiss Sociologist Bernard Crettaz, who organized events called “café mortels” to have honest conversations about all aspects of death. There have been over 7,000 Death Cafes in over 65 countries since 2011.

People attend the Death Cafe for a variety of reasons. One of the members said that he enjoys the Death Cafe because it allows for an open discussion about a subject that society hasn’t yet normalized. Another member was training to become a hospice nurse and was interested in other people’s experiences with death to better prepare herself for her career.

A “talking object” allowed for members to speak without interruption, creating an intimate, non-judgmental environment. Everyone at the table was given the chance to speak or pass on the subject at hand.

Conversation topics ranged from the use of psychedelic drugs, assisted death, suicide and sense of self.

“My body dies, but there’s a part of me that’s connected to the whole,” one member said.

Members also shared stories about how death has affected their friends and families and gave advice on ways in which they dealt with such hardships. Both Wilson and Shoemaker agreed that participating in the Death Cafes has helped them deal with the effects of death in their own lives.

After the event, members stayed to help clean up and share some of their favorite works that pertained to the night’s topics. Some of the works shared included the movie Still Alice, the writings of controversial author Carlos Castaneda and the artwork of Alex Grey.

Death Cafes are hosted every fourth Sunday at the Chico Branch Library.

Brian Luong can be reached at [email protected] or @brianluongorion on Twitter.

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    richard johnson // Jan 30, 2019 at 5:57 am

    Well written story, but kind of a downer topic. Hard to believe a monthly event would draw regular visitors.