Write-up of Columbus, OH Death Café #6: January 9, 2013
The Death Café events never cease to amaze me in the variety of attendees, which leads to unique conversations each time. This Death Café had some repeat attendees and some new ones. Mix in an attendee with a Master’s in Transpersonal Psychology and an attendee who is a funeral home director and you’re going to have an interesting dialogue.
Words that were used to describe this event include: open, participating, enlightening, refreshing and therapeutic.
Just recently, TLC aired the first episode of the Best Funeral Ever. This show has caused quite a stir in the media where journalists have used the phrases, “that’s disgusting” and “trivializes death.” Death is supposed to be private, they say. Attendees at the Death Café do not necessarily agree with that sentiment. Those of us in attendance realize that we are a minority. We acknowledge our mortality and the mortality of those around us. As a facilitator, I usually try not to direct the conversation, but I could not help but ask about the professional mourners that I had seen on the show. Professional mourners were individuals who were hired to attend the services and display outward signs of emotion.
“Are those people for real?”
“Yes,” the funeral home director told me.
“Could I be one?”
“You might not fit in,” he said. He went on to explain that the professional mourners actually do serve a purpose to allow others to grieve openly. He told me with the African American culture, there is a strong desire to keep emotions in check. This rings true to me because in my hospice work I have heard repeatedly, “I have to be strong for the others.”
At this Death Café we talked about how we are a pain avoiding society. People avoid funerals because they are afraid to experience pain. They don’t realize that the funerals are healing experiences. Even planning the funeral can be a healing process because it allows families to really think about how they want to honor their loved one.
We talked about how the television show calls the funerals “Celebration of life.” Then someone brought up that not every death is a celebration of life. Especially not if it was a tragic accident. Or murder. Or a mass shooting of school children.
The room got quiet when someone brought up Sandyhook. We sat still with the pain.
Someone pondered if these mass shooting events made people think more about death. We concluded that one cannot help but think about it in the moment but people try to forget about death as soon as they can. The mass shootings seem to make us more avoidant. It is so painful that we want to run away, change the channel. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
This led us to discuss how we talk about death with our children and how we, as children, were first exposed to death.
The conversation was not entirely serious though. We talked about the cathartic experience of going through a loved one’s possessions. That it is good to get your affairs in order to a point, but the process of sorting through belongings sometimes forces families to come together and grieve together. Surprisingly, that even sorting through “stuff” can help heal.
We talked about so much more than what could be summarized here, but you’ll just have to come to a Death Café for yourself to see what it is like. The next Columbus Death Café is February 6th. No RSVP required. The event will be from 7-9 p.m. at the Westerville Panera 782 N. State Street. Please contact Lizzymiles@gmail.com with questions.
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