A Night at the Death Café

A death cafe may sound like an Agatha Christie novel or a long-lost Edgar Allen Poe poem, but it is something real and can be found right here in Rhode Island. I was brought to my first one by a dear friend, and she said it would be right up my alley. Nothing could prepare me for what I was to experience.

Not as grim and gloomy as one would perceive, a death café is a gathering of people from various beliefs and backgrounds to have an open discussion over food and drink about the last great social taboo: death. As DeathCafe.com best describes the goal, it is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” The idea, started by Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz in 2004, was to discuss the subject that led to great fears and anxiety in a majority of people around the world for centuries. This led to the first Death Café founded by Jon Underwood in 2011 and quickly spread to more than 55 countries.

My first café was in Panera Bread in Providence Place Mall this past December. There I was joined by several others in ages ranging from their early 20s to mid-70s. The conversation was kicked off by the host, Ainsley Rousseau. Throughout the two hours together, complete strangers became friends. We shared stories of our own mortalities, theories on ghosts, out-of-body experiences and how a loss of a loved one could inspire life changes.

For the purposes of anonymity, I won’t share names, but I can share a moment of electricity that jolted through me. One individual was talking about how a very young cousin had suddenly passed away. When describing his tattoo, the person sitting across from her jumped out of her seat – it was a dear friend of hers.  The two embraced and cried, finding comfort that they didn’t realize they still needed. I didn’t know this person they lost, but even I felt sense of relief. As I made my exit toward the end, I felt energized and optimistic after being given the opportunity to discuss death with so many people. It was probably the most effective free therapy session I’ve ever had. Now I eagerly await the next!

The next Death Café is to be held Wed, March 14 at the Panera Bread in Providence Place Mall. Stay tuned to deathcafe.com to see when and where the next local café awaits your mortal company.

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