There were many there whose work involves confronting death: hospital chaplains, social workers, grief counselors, hospice volunteers. There were men and women of various ethnic groups and a wide age range: 20’s to a self-professed 87 years old. But that didn’t mean they had talked about their own, personal feelings about death.
We broke into four groups for wide-ranging conversations about our attitudes towards death and dying, particularly our own death. I was not surprised to hear quite a few identify the death of someone close to them as a catalyst. Sometimes that inspired them to devote their career to helping others have a good death. Sometimes it caused them to take a hard look at their own lives, including their legacy. There were those who talked about death and dying issues all day, but had a hard time when asked how they felt about their own.
That’s what a Death Café is all about: providing a safe, open, respectful environment for talking about death and dying. You’re with a group of (probable) strangers talking about a subject that’s often impossible to bring up with family and friends. It’s a time to share your feelings and learn that you are not alone in struggling with how to live a life that makes a difference. Because, let’s face it: part of having a good death is realizing that your life mattered.
The evaluations were terrific. When asked to give three words to describe their experience, the top responses were: interesting, comfortable, open, enlightening (yes, I know, that’s four – there was a tie). Typical comments included:
“It reinforced how important open discussions are.”
“I am more at ease talking about my own death.”
“Moving to hear others’ perspectives on death.”
And yes, there was laughter, especially when we talked about what makes up a fun funeral (a good topic for a future blog post). Many there – and since – have asked when we’re doing another one.
We are planning our next Death Café for Monday August 19, also in Evanston. Details will go up on the “Events” page here as soon as they’re finalized. If you already know you can’t attend or want to be on our email list for future Chicago-area Death Cafes, click here.
To those who joined us, thank you. You endured a steamy evening to discuss a difficult subject with courage and grace.
If you want to learn more about the Death Café movement, including how to hold one of your own, check out Jon Underwood’s Death Café website.