Monday, October 24, 2016

Death Cafes and Celebrants are a Natural Fit

                                       By Elaine Voci, Ph.D.& Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant™

Four years after his wife died, sociologist Bernard Crattez of Switzerland, felt a need to meet with other people and talk about death and dying.  He envisioned a meeting that was free of charge, free of ideology, confidential, comfortable and where conversations would take place over tea and cake.  He called it a “Café Mortel” when he sent out the first invitation to a group of friends and colleagues.
Many people accepted his invitation, and the meetings flowered into regular offerings in the community; word spread and newspaper stories featured discussions of these unusually named  “Death Cafes”.  The word spread into London where another man, Jon Underwood, picked up the idea, and hosted his own Death Cafés at his home with his Mother, a trained Gestalt therapist, serving as the facilitator. He now manages the main Death Cafés Website worldwide. 
Today there are over 3,537 Death Cafes being held in 37 countries.  The objective is 'to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives' A Death Cafe has no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session and it is always offered:
  • On a not for profit basis
  • In an accessible, respectful and confidential space 
  • With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action 
  • Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!

The Café is a good fit for certified Life-Cycle Celebrants™  who are trained in the art of ceremony and ritualMany are hosted by regional Celebrants (approved Death Café facilitators) like myself. I have hosted the Carmel Death Café for 2 years and I have incorporated ceremonial elements from the beginning.  I open the Café formally by striking a Tibetan bowl, and welcoming people, explaining the simple format and guidelines.  We meet in a conference room around a large rectangular table; in the middle of the table I have arranged a colorful mandala tablecloth with various artifacts that speak to spiritual peace, beauty, and contemplation such as crystals, spheres, a metal LOVE statue, crystal hearts and glass beads.  I have a bouquet of fresh seasonal flowers in the room, and battery operated candles.  I create an appetizing dessert table featuring cakes, cookies and beverages.  (Since I love to cook, I often provide the hospitality of a homemade dessert.)
Discussion topics are generated by participant-attendees; they drive the content that is discussed when we meet.  Sometimes people want to talk about personal losses, or news stories that relate to physician assisted suicide, or preparing for death with Living Will – it varies from group to group.  Over two years, our group has formed a core group of people who continue to attend the Café; they never seem to lose interest in it and are always attentive and engaged with discussions.  About 10-12 people attend each Café.
As a Celebrant, I enjoy hosting and facilitating the Cafes; I know how to create “ceremonial” space and how to actively listen when people are speaking so I can facilitate a smooth flowing gathering in which each person is heard.  At the end of the Café, I circulate a short written evaluation form to each person, and collect their completed forms.  Then I ask each person to verbally express what they will be taking home with them that day from the Café gathering.  When each person has spoken, I share my own takeaways, and then I strike the Tibetan bowl once more to officially close the Café.  
I always leave the Cafes with a good feeling of contentment and pleasure that I am a part of a global movement toward making death a less frightening topic for people, and helping them see that growing comfortable with death allows each of us to live with greater conscious awareness of how precious each day of life is.  As Galileo once wrote, “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
To learn more about Death Cafes, go the Celebrant Foundation & Institute (Non-profit Educational Org) for a Celebrant hosted Death Café by you at: (973) 746 1792 or

Elaine Voci, Ph.D.
Life Skills Coach & Certified Life Cycle Celebrant
11805 N. Pennsylvania Street
Carmel, IN 46032
tel: 317-730-5481

NEW BOOK: Soul Sketches: How to craft meaningful and authentic eulogies. 

Advice is Like Snow
By Marilyn Dion, Life-Cycle Celebrant

I can remember 28 or so years ago when I answered an advertisement for a job as a museum curator. My youngest child was an infant. The position sounded like my dream job – if only I could get it! Did I have the education for it at the time? No. Did I have transferable skills? Yes. To my delight and surprise I got the job and was introduced to my museum mentor. I will never forget her patience, her confidence in me and the one on one exchanges that built my understanding and expertise. She was selfless, with the goal always on the common good of the museum and its future. Raised by parents who exemplified volunteering and mentoring, it comes as no surprise that I cherish the privilege of mentoring to others. Having received the benefits of mentoring myself throughout my career, my purpose is to inspire and encourage you, our wonderful Life-Cycle Celebrants™ to mentor others. For me that means offering my years of experience and wisdom to fellow celebrants in our ever growing tribe.

As you are all well aware, Life-Cycle Celebrants™ are something like the pioneers of the days of old – foraging along new paths, establishing landmarks and supporting each other on our respective journeys. We have incredible access to information and a network that has been built by those that have gone before us. We consult each other, praise each other and extend hands of friendship across the miles -kindred spirits all! When we are asked to assess a new celebrant for the speaking skills segment of various courses, we agree. We share tips and pointers. In my case, I believe in what I call the ‘sandwich approach’, a technique used by Toastmasters to help train professional speakers. In essence it is this - a positive, a growth point, and a positive – a verbal sandwich. The method shelters sensitivity while boosting self-esteem – truly accomplishing what it is intended to do. I believe we Life-Cycle Celebrants™ are a rare commodity in that we are not directly in competition with each other and that the stronger we are as individuals, the stronger we are collectively.

I asked one of my mentees her thoughts on the mentoring she received from me over the last year. This is what she shared: “It is with the deepest respect and admiration that I write about my mentoring experience with you. It has been just under a year that I completed the Wedding Celebrant training with CF&I and even though I learned a lot I was not mentally ready to deal with my first client's request. Marilyn is always just a phone call away. She calmed my nerves and coached me on how to respond to my client's questions. After I got the booking, she was instrumental in helping me to craft the best ceremony as we exchanged ideas. I came away from the experience feeling empowered and ready to perform more ceremonies. Having her as a mentor gives me confidence and I know I'm not alone when I'm struggling with a question. She is my role model. A woman who is funny, creative, smart and has a heartfelt desire to help others. Through this experience we have become good friends and my life is better for knowing her.” “Better for knowing her’ – I echo that from my perspective. You see it works both ways – she found me to help teach her, but I found her to show her what I have learned. Mentoring or coaching enables me to pass on what I know and what I have learned – things not necessarily found in books or articles. Practical tips, a few laughs, affirmations, ways that ground me and make life full and worthwhile. She contacted me through a mutual friend asking about becoming a Celebrant and I was only too happy to share my perspective and refer her to our delightful
Charlotte Eulette. I love hearing about her successes and sharing her joy. She thoughtfully drops off little gifts that make me feel special but her biggest gift to me is meaning and balance - mentor meaning. She helps me to feel that I contribute and that I make a difference – both to her and her clients. What is a mentor, if not the wise advice giver – giver of often crucial advice and in our case perhaps significant to an epic love story or exemplary life story. It is reminding another that they know it just as well as you do. It is another who tells you they believe, that they not only see the possibilities in you but reveal them to you.
A mentor leads you through the briars and tumbleweeds of your own mind obstacles and blows them away with a smile and a kind thought. A mentor honours the delicate beauty in the individual and nurtures the sprouting seeds of uniqueness. When I mentor through TLC encouragement, what I do gives way to the opportunity for greatness as the mentee creates themselves – exactly as it should be! Take this as a call to action – be the best mentor you can be, knowing that, like in the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge – “Advice is like snow, the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.”                   

  Marilyn Dion began her career as secretary for the Federal Tri-Level Conferences, became one of the first female life insurance underwriters, a shopping center marketing director, general manager and a museum curator. Today she enjoys her favorite job as a Life-Cycle Celebrant® writing and officiating at ceremonies to help others celebrate their milestones in personalized meaningful ways. Find more information about Marilyn at
Feel free to reach out to Marilyn at Marilyn Dion

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