projects and writings of Tracy Burkholder
In September, 2016 I started a year-long personal challenge of doing something each week that I’ve never done before then writing about it. This is week 24.
Sit in a well-lit room, eat homemade brownies and talk about death with strangers. This is the Death Cafe and how I spent my Sunday afternoon.
If you know me or have read some of my posts here, maybe it won’t surprise you that death and dying are a favorite subject. To even admit that in this culture pigeonholes me. I must be morbid or depressed. Maybe I never grew out of my goth stage or maybe I never got over the death of a loved one. Maybe I need to find something better to do with my time. None of these things are true.
But we need to talk about death. Trying to put the subject off until it meets us head on is a tough alternative and, unfortunately, the route so many take. Avoiding the reality of death until we are in the midst of crisis or trauma or grief only digs us a deeper hole. What contortions of body, mind and spirit have each of us made in order to not face this reality? What other life event is so inevitable and yet so thoroughly unprepared for?
As I said before, the subject scares me less than it does other people (partly because I’ve been lucky so far to not lose any of my closest family or friends). Because of that, jumping into an unstructured conversation with a bunch of strangers wasn’t too hard. Of course, the Death Cafe is a self-selected group. But it’s a way to start. We talked about our rituals around those who have died, the ways we’ve handled long, slow deaths and traumatic, sudden deaths and our own potentially terminal illnesses. The conversation slipped from one topic to another and two hours quickly evaporated.
Nothing about it was depressing. I left feeling connected to a specific circle of people as well as a larger group of curious humans. Talking about death is beautifully real. There is no place for posturing. Nobody is an expert. Everyone has a question or a story or a fear. Why not share them over cookies and tea? I encourage everyone to either go to one or consider hosting one of your own. I think you’ll be surprised how remarkably easy and unexpectedly uplifting a death cafe can be.