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 ritual. Many 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 a 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 http://deathcafe.com/what/#sthash.j4NeV2jr.dpuf) Contact the Celebrant Foundation & Institute (Non-profit Educational Org) for a Celebrant hosted Death Café by you at: (973) 746 1792 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Elaine Voci, Ph.D.
Elaine Voci, Ph.D.
Life Skills Coach & Certified Life Cycle Celebrant
11805 N. Pennsylvania Street
Carmel, IN 46032
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