Death is taboo in Western culture, but the Death Café discussion group creates a space for a conversation on the feared and avoided topic.
The gathering started in Europe about 10 years ago and has appeared in more than 65 countries (anyone can facilitate a Death Café). The discussion is confidential and is meant to be a place to listen to others – not a space to proselytize one’s own beliefs or lead anyone to any conclusions.
Nor is it a therapy session. The “café” comes from the life-nourishing snacks, coffee and tea, which are an ingredient to connecting with others.
Robert “Han” Bishop facilitated the meeting on Wednesday at The Pine River Library.
“People believe death is the worst thing that could happen,” an attendee said. “The reality is, nobody gets out of here alive.”
At the first Bayfield meet-up, everyone was given three minutes to discuss their personal reasons for being there. The focus and respect for those who had the floor were in contrast to the attention our phone-focused minds typically give one another. Some topics mentioned were the fear of death, near-death experiences, the possibility of nothing in the hereafter, and the right for the dying to end life on one’s own terms.
One participant brought up how other cultures, like aboriginal people, hold ceremonies to assist their loved ones in passing.
“I’ve thought about practicing,” the attendee said. “But then I thought, that could be risky.”
Bishop said wisdom grows from acknowledging death. When we are consciously aware of our finite lives, it’s easier to seize the moment and not take everything so seriously. This idea echoed one attendee’s experience witnessing Tibetan monks greet each other with “Remember death,” compared to the more casual, “Hey, how’s it going?”
This knowledge is the basis for Bishop’s other new group, Conscious Elders Wisdom Circle, where people can share their knowledge from the lessons life has taught them and challenge the role of elders in modern Western society.
“You hear about people going to menopause manor and playing shuffleboard,” Bishop said. “This is deadening.”
He said that many older people buy into the stereotypes and jokes that they are no longer needed in society when they actually have immense value to offer.
“We live in a youth-oriented culture,” Bishop said. “(Old age) is a rich time in people’s lives and they can engage with people as a source of wisdom.”
The next Death Café is on April 10, from 10:30 a.m. to noon at The Pine River Library, 395 Bayfield Center Dr., and will continue on every second Wednesday of the month. The first Conscious Elders Wisdom Circle meets at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 27, also at the library.