A death cafe is a gathering whose mission is to normalize the topic of death. It is an informal group-directed discussion about death and other end of life issues; other than helping people become more comfortable with the topic, there is no particular agenda. It is not a grief support or counseling session, but rather a chance to explore death-related topics in a relaxed atmosphere. From the organization's website: "At a Death Cafe people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives."
Attendees can raise any topic they wish to discuss and anyone present can participate in the conversation. Having a funeral home professional and a hospice and palliative care professional available is ideal because they can answer many of the technical questions (e.g. how to find out where one can legally scatter ashes).
Each death cafe is unique - the topics raised and the attendees' interest will determine where the conversations go. This program dovetails with the mission of the Arlington-based organization CIAC (Coalition to Improve Advanced Care) which wants to see Arlingtonians facing terminal illness take a more proactive role in their own quality of life.
Jennifer Odlum, Central Library's resident 55+ specialist, and Brit Austin, adult programmer at Columbia Pike and the Connection, have put together several of these programs at their respective Library locations.
From Brit: "Patrons really enjoyed eating cake, skeleton shaped cookies, and drinking coffee, while listening to other's death and end-of-life stories. Many pastors from different religions came, since they constantly deal with death. A few nurses too. People from ages 20-60 showed up. We also talked about how much a funeral can cost and different burial options and the burial rules in Virginia and Maryland."
Here is some of the feedback they've received:
If you would like to host a death cafe at your branch, contact Jennifer Odlum or Brit Austin.
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