Report on first Death Cafe Petaluma, CA

Aqus Café was packed with nearly 40 participants eager to share in the first Death Café Petaluma. After the local newspaper ran an article on the event, the RSVPs poured in. Unbeknownst to the facilitator, Karen Garber, an article also ran in several other community papers without mentioning an RSVP! Tables were set with flowering plants, boxes of Kleenex, and tent cards reserving them for Death Café attendees. Printed out lists of Questions for Your Consideration were distributed. Those questions can be found at the end of this entry.

Tables filled up quickly and conversation started to buzz before the event even started. A microphone was needed so the facilitator could be heard above the din. After a brief intro about her background as an oncology and hospice nurse, and how she discovered Death Café, she read some quotes about death and dying to set the mood and then said “Let’s talk about death!”

There were no apparent lags in conversation. Topics ranged from early experiences of death, to fears, to how to prepare for the inevitable. People spoke about their own declining health or that of parents and loved ones. One woman who is 66 years old, single, childless and healthy, talked about an appointment she made with the local hospital to do a “tour” so she might know what to expect when she did become ill.

Of the 37 people who signed a sign up sheet (there may have been more people who did not), 22 provided written evaluations. Eighteen of these rated the Death Café a 5, and four of them rated it a 4 overall. The only significant complaint was the noise!  Words used most often to describe the evening were “safe”, “community”, “inspiring” and “comforting.”

Our youngest participant was a 19 year old college student, and she was encouraged to start a Death Café of her own on campus. Our eldest was 79 years old. We had 3 couples, one mother and daughter, one brother and sister, and a few friends who attended together.

There was a genuine feeling of excitement and enthusiasm surrounding this new idea of openly discussing death. Most people wrote that they were anxious to come back. In the days following, the facilitator was told by several people in the community who were not there what a successful event they’d heard it was, and that they hoped to be able to come to the next one.

The next Death Café Petaluma is scheduled for Tuesday, September 10 from 6:30-8pm at Aqus Café. RSVPs will not be taken for the next event; it will be first come, first served so get there early to get your seat!

Questions for Your Consideration

Our culture is so fearful of death that few of us can bear to think about it long enough to make any plans or decisions when the inevitable occurs. Death Cafe opens the door to the conversation.

1. What is your experience with death?
2. What does it mean to have a good death? A bad death?
3. What would you need (to put in place) to have an ideal death?
4. How do you live now that would contribute to a good death later?
5. Are you afraid to die?
6. What about death scares you?
7. What do you think happens after you die?
8. Do you believe in life after death/ghosts/reincarnation?
9. Is there a “right” age to die? A “right” ailment to die of?
10. Would you choose to be immortal if that were an option?
11. What do you think about the right to die movement? 
12. Should people be allowed to choose to end their own lives?
13. How do you feel about suicide?
14. What would you like your funeral to be like? Does it matter to you?
15. How do you feel about organ donation?

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