Talk­ing about the D word

At these cof­fee klatches, a sub­ject that is largely ta­boo is on the agenda.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By JIM FITZGER­ALD

IT CAN be tough to get a con­ver­sa­tion go­ing if you want to talk about the late stages of de­men­tia, your last will and tes­ta­ment or the re­cent pass­ing of your mother.

“When you’re at a cock­tail party and you lead off by say­ing, ‘What do you think about death?’ it’ll be, ‘C’mon, man, it’s a party! Chill out!’ says Len Belzer, a re­tired ra­dio host from Man­hat­tan in New York.

Belzer is among a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple around the world who are in­ter­ested enough in death to gather in small groups in homes, restau­rants and churches to talk about it.

The gath­er­ings, known as Death Cafes, pro­vide places where death can be dis­cussed com­fort­ably, with­out fear of vi­o­lat­ing taboos or be­ing mocked for bring­ing up the sub­ject.

Or­gan­is­ers say that there’s no agenda other than get­ting a con­ver­sa­tion started – and that talk­ing about death can help peo­ple be­come more com­fort­able with it and thereby en­rich their lives.

“Most peo­ple walk­ing down the street, they’re ter­ri­fied of death,” says Jane Hughes Gig­noux, 83, an au­thor who leads Death Cafe gath­er­ings at her Man­hat­tan apart­ment. “But if you think of death as part of life and let go of the fear, you think more about liv­ing your life well.”

Jon Un­der­wood, who or­gan­ised the first Death Cafe in Lon­don two years ago, says he was in­spired by death dis­cus­sions pi­o­neered by Bernard Cret­taz, a Swiss so­ci­ol­o­gist. The first Death Cafe in the United States was held in Colum­bus, Ohio, last year, and “It’s just kind of snow­balled,” he says, es­ti­mat­ing nearly 300 Death Cafes have been held in Amer­ica, Bri­tain, Canada, Aus­tralia, New Zea­land, Italy, Por­tu­gal, Brazil and Sin­ga­pore.

At a re­cent two-hour Death Cafe shep­herded by Gig­noux, six par­tic­i­pants, most in their 60s, talked eas­ily over tea and bis­cotti.

Kathryn Janus, 66, notes that death in­volves “a lot of ‘why?’ Why did a 12-year-old with leukaemia die? Why did a cat get run over?”

Mar­jorie Li­pari, 68, talks about the death of her twin brother 16 years ago. “What does one do with that kind of hole?” she asks. “It never oc­curred to me he wouldn’t be with me for my whole life.”

Robb Kush­ner, 62, dis­cusses the dif­fer­ences be­tween Chris­tian and Jewish funer­als he’d been to, not­ing the open cas­ket at a Methodist wake. Ali­cia Evans, in her 40s, then tells the tale of a man known to be a bit “scruffy” in life who was nicely ti­died up by the em­balmer. “He looked so good in the cof­fin I wanted to give him my num­ber,” she says, crack­ing up the group.

Other sub­jects com­monly brought up at Death Cafes range from fi­nan­cial plan­ning to sui­cide. They in­clude cre­ma­tion, me­mo­rial ser­vices, loved ones’ last mo­ments and the pos­si­bil­ity of an after­life.

Jane Bissler, in­com­ing pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion for Death Ed­u­ca­tion and Coun­sel­ing, a pro­fes- sion­als’ group, says she ap­proves of the Death Cafe con­cept be­cause peo­ple can speak freely about a sub­ject that has be­come ta­boo.

“We’ve tried to shield our chil­dren. Some of them don’t know what to do at a fu­neral home or how to sup­port a friend who’s lost some­one,” she says. “We’ve raised a whole gen­er­a­tion of folks that may not be talk­ing about death.”

Au­drey Pel­li­cano, 60, a Death Cafe fa­cil­i­ta­tor, says it’s not sur­pris­ing baby boomers have avoided talk­ing about death be­cause their gen­er­a­tion has been re­sist­ing age­ing for decades.

“We don’t deal with loss,” she says. “We know how to ac­quire things, not how to give them up. We have no idea how to leave this life and ev­ery­thing we’ve got.” – AP

Not your usual con­ver­sa­tions: robb Kush­ner talks with ali­cia evans (back to cam­era) dur­ing a death cafe dis­cus­sion in a new york city apart­ment. at rear are Mar­jorie Li­pari (left) and dis­cus­sion leader Jane Hughes Gig­noux. death cafes, where peo­ple talk freely about death-re­lated is­sues, are rapidly spread­ing through the US and the world. — aP

an in­vi­ta­tion to a death cafe dis­cus­sion in new york city.

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