Columbus “Death Cafe” Concept Spreads Across U.S.

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The Columbus "Death Cafe" meets monthly.(Photo: Death Cafe)
The Columbus "Death Cafe" meets monthly.(Photo: Death Cafe)

A conversation over dinner is nothing new. But what if the topic of conversation is death? Death Cafés have not been around very long; the first Death Café discussion group met in Europe in 2004. But now they’re taking root in the U.S., thanks to a Columbus social worker.

A Death Café is not a place; it’s more of a concept. This Death Café is being held in a meeting room at a Westerville Panera. The evening’s facilitator is licensed social and hospice worker Lizzy Miles.

“I find that everywhere I go when I tell people I work in Hospice they start telling me their stories; whether it’s at a poker table in Las Vegas or the crafts store aisle, they’ll just start sharing what’s happened to them or to a loved-one who is dying. And it made me realize that people needed a place where they could talk,” Miles says.

So after reading about the Death Café phenomenon in Great Britain, Miles decided to bring the idea to the United States.

“I see families in crisis because they’ve never had conversations about what they want for themselves or their loved ones. And then they are trying to make decisions right in the heat of the moment. And it’s very upsetting to them,” Miles says.

That might be the impetus, but Death Café topics are as diverse as the attendees. And there are all ages, all sorts of faiths, atheists and agnostics, who come together to talk about death.

There’s a fairly recent movement of people taking the funeral back into the home instead of the funeral home. It used to be, say, like back in the 1880s, where people were laid out in their own dining room on their dining room table. And sometime probably around the time that death went into the hospital death also went into the funeral home.

“People have talked about anything from cremation versus burial to after-death communication to the burden of care-giving, to advance care planning. Every time we have a different Death Café there’s something new that I haven’t heard before,” says Miles.

That was life-changing for me. I feel like I was on borrowed time. People say that they live like there’s no tomorrow. Well I truly feel like I should have had no tomorrow and I think that puts me in another place than other people because I was in a wheel chair for a couple of weeks…

The first Death Café was held in the U.S. in the Columbus area last July.

“When I first started doing the death cafés, I thought that if people started talking about death they would feel more comfortable about their own mortality or it would change their views,” Miles says. “Ultimately it seems that they just enjoy having a place to talk and they enjoy hearing other people’s opinions that differ from their own.”

I was in the emergency room and I guess I just died. And they rushed me to trauma because they had to put the paddles on me. Now in the meantime I was somewhere like a child. I didn’t have a body I was just spirit, I was spirit. And it was just very peaceful, very loving, no concerns, it was just awesome.

And so the discussions go. Miles passes out surveys to complete before participants depart. But other than that she says:

“There is no end result that we are attached to with hosting these events. I’m not setting out to have you come to a certain conclusion except for you to contemplate life and how precious it is, perhaps.”

That’s Lizzy Miles, a licensed social worker who does hospice care. She’ll facilitate the eighth Columbus area Death Café next month. The first Death Café in New York City will be held March 6th.

Comments
  • Audrey Pellicano

    Great program Lizzy! We are definitely going to be helping people who would otherwise, have no place to safely voice their concerns and opinions around the inevitability of death. The NYC Death Cafe has changed the date. We will meet Wednesday, February 20th at 6:00pm Le Pain Quotidien 124 7th Ave. between 17th Street and 18th streets.
    Audrey Pellicano