Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL -

years be­fore it gained a name and so­lid­i­fied into an of­fi­cial move­ment. In 2011, a man named Jon Un­der­wood — who would later die at age 44 — held his first death cafe in his base­ment in Lon­don. He en­vi­sioned the meet­ings as a refuge from what he saw as a patho­log­i­cally deatha­verse cul­ture.

Af­ter Un­der­wood and his mother pub­lished an on­line guide for hold­ing death cafes, the idea quickly spread and was en­veloped into the grow­ing death pos­i­tive move­ment. Since then, ac­cord­ing to Death Cafe’s of­fi­cial web­site, there have been more than 9,700 death cafes held in 66 coun­tries. Any­one can host their own death cafe, as long as they abide by the guide­lines set out by Un­der­wood.

Farr has seen at­ten­dance at her death cafes rise markedly over the years.

Her first death cafe, held in Novem­ber 2016, saw about 15 at­ten­dees. Re­cently, her meet­ings have topped out at 50.

Af­ter about 20 min­utes, Farr calls the group back to­gether. Na­dia Raikin, 60, vol­un­teers to share what she’s writ­ten. As she reads, her dry, cool hu­mor is pal­pa­ble: “Well. I am dead now. But at least I lived for a while, which is bet­ter than noth­ing.” She pauses to smile as a chuckle goes through the room. “But

I’m happy I got to ex­pe­ri­ence life, and that my mom, upon bless­ings of my grandma, de­cided to keep me. I was born out of a force of na­ture. I guess I died when na­ture or God called me back.”

An older man named Chris is next. “Chris lost his life in a car ac­ci­dent on Nov. 1, 2020, nine days be­fore his birth­day. He was 75,” he says as the others lis­ten. Tall with gray hair, he speaks in a gen­tle, straight­for­ward voice, sketch­ing out the story of life, mar­riage and work.

“He was a hu­mor­ous, easy­go­ing man who drank a lit­tle too much but never caused any trou­ble when the drink got the bet­ter of him. He al­ways felt in­tense em­pa­thy with the un­der­dogs of the world, which he felt a mem­ber of. But he was happy and com­fort­able with this iden­tity.” He stops read­ing abruptly and looks up from the page. “Any­way, blah, blah, blah. What did you all think?”

“I loved it,” Farr says. “I think it could be a great jump­ing-off place for a mem­oir.”

Af­ter a few more peo­ple share their obits, the group breaks for another round of writ­ing. For the mid­dleaged and younger par­tic­i­pants, it can be a for­ward­look­ing ex­er­cise. Jill Eckart, 40, says, “I took it as an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate what might be pos­si­ble in the next half of my life. I have about hope­fully 45 to 50 more years left. With the end in mind, what do I want that space to look like?”

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