Art of Dying Volume II | Page 76

Feature I’ve Led 50 Death Cafes: Here Are 50 Things I Learned. BY BILL PALMER, FOUNDER OF DEATH CAFÉ OAKLAND Wait, what? Death Café? Death Café was founded in the UK in 2011 by Jon Underwood. People gather to discuss death— fear and frustration, dread and despair, grief and gloom, as well as hope and happiness, resilience and resolve, jokes and joy, There is no format other than open and free discussion about any aspect of death. Everything is discussed, from the most mundane and obscure details of wills and funerals to wonderings about bodily decomposition to the deepest and most profound philosophical and spiritual concerns. There have now been over 4000 Death Cafes in 40 countries. There is no suggested course of action, no philosophy or set of beliefs imposed by the leader. There is often, humor. I’ve never been to a Death Café where there was not laughter. I founded Death Café in Oakland in 2013, and after the first 50 (there have been 56 of them) I decided to explore what I had learned. 1. How we die in America is largely a function of race and wealth. 2. A surprising percentage of adults in Death Cafes simply do not accept that their death is real. 3. The overwhelming percentage of people in Death Cafes Oakland are women. This is true globally as well. Is it because men frequently off-load much of their emotional life to women? 4. Many people in Death Cafes are grieving losses that are 10, 20, 30, 40 or more years in the past. 5. Those who cared for a loved one for a long time before their loved one’s death report that they felt a deep shame over the dominant emotion they experienced when death finally came: relief. 76 | ART OF DYING 6. Denial can be a lovely place of grace. 7. Many report that they feel numb after the death of a loved one, but feel devastated after the loss of a pet. 8. The approach of death for some means the long, slow loss of mobility, capability, sensibility, affability and availability. This progression is more dreaded than death itself. 9. There is laughter at every Death Café. Some of it is the nervous laughter of touching and speaking cultural taboos around death. Some of it is the deep appreciation that fear of death is fear of life.