May 1st, 2013 at 10:00 am
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Caregivers may need to share thoughts about death

by Dorian Martin

As a caregiver, I find that I think more and more about death. However, it seems that there aren’t too many places where you can verbally explore the concept of death. Bring it up at a party and you’ll see your conversation mates soon move on to other people. Broach the subject during lunch and watch for the pregnant pause.

Now there are events called “Death Cafes” designed to offer an emotionally safe place to talk about dying, according to a Los Angeles Times article. These conversations are not directed toward any particular course of action — they just offer a community for individuals who are thinking about death. A Death Cafe facilitator explains that it’s a friendly discussion, not a support group or a grief group.

An open conversation about death

Death Cafes are designed to encourage an awareness of death in order to help people make the most of living. These gatherings are grounded in the work of Bernard Crettaz, a sociologist who started “Cafe Mortels” in Switzerland and France.

Death Cafes are part of a project called Impermanence by Jon Underwood that focuses on death and dying. Since their founding in 2011, at least 100 Death Cafes have been held, and approximately 1,000 people from England, Wales, the United States, Canada, Australia and Italy have participated.

The cafes are set up so that anyone with the skills and experience can be a host as long as they agree to follow the founder’s principles:

  1. Death Cafes are not for profit.
  2. Death Cafe facilitators do not intend to lead participants toward any specific conclusion, product or course of action.
  3. The Death Cafe is held in an accessible, respectful and confidential space, in an environment that is free of discrimination.
  4. Refreshing drink, nourishing food and cake are available for participants.

A publication offers detailed operating instructions for the planning and facilitating of Death Cafes, as well as information on prior events.

Appreciating death — and life

The Los Angeles Times article suggests that a Death Cafe can help people face death without angst, thus helping them live a fuller life. Conversations about mortality can be important in a society where death is a distant process for many whose loved ones die in a nursing home, an assisted living center or a hospital, rather than at home with loved ones around them.

I think participating in conversations like these can help caregivers. It gives us a chance to think more deeply about death as it relates to those we are helping, as well as our own life and mortality.

I’ve also written a related blog post on having conversations about death even if the topic is uncomfortable. It’s important that caregivers, medical personnel and family can find out the wishes of their loved ones concerning their final days.

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