Thursday, September 28, 2023

This new ‘cafe’ in Norfolk wants you to talk about death and dying

NORFOLK — Some people like to talk a lot about themselves, while others would rather discuss politics.

Still, some people would rather discuss movies and television shows.

But some people want you to discuss more serious topics, like death and dying.

That is what people can expect during Woodlawn Funeral Home’s “death cafe” on Monday.

A “death cafe” is described on Woodlawn’s website as “a safe place to have discussions on death and life over coffee and cake,” and the next one will take place at its funeral home  from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

What exactly is a death cafe?

Death Cafe is part of movement to increase awareness of death “while helping others make the most of their finite lives,” according to the website.

Death cafes happen throughout the world and have an organic and open structure to them — sometimes there is a facilitator, but sometimes there’s not. The meetings have no agendas, set conclusions, or sales pitches.

“There’s no pressure and we’re not trying to sell anybody anything, which is an important principle of these meetings,” said Betty Thomas, community outreach coordinator for Woodlawn. “We simply want people to come in and talk about death.”

It’s important for society to be discussing death, and Woodlawn has an obligation to facilitate those uncomfortable conversations, Thomas said. Death cafes are one way of doing that.

“We feel it’s our duty to be stewards and educate our community,” Thomas said. “We don’t have any real education on death in this country, or most Western countries. And so we feel that should be part of our job — to educate people.”

Much like a coffee shop, the death cafes include light snacks, tea, and coffee. Thomas said past attendees have discussed what happens when you die, what they want to happen to their bodies, their personal experiences with death, as well as discussions about what motivated people to attend. People sit around and chat.

Silence is also welcomed, and attendees are not obligated to speak if they don’t want to.

“Some people just come to sit and listen, and that’s ok,” Thomas said.
Woodlawn encourages other activities that highlight death as a part of life, such as their “yoga in the cemetery” program.
“We always end in the corpse pose during yoga in the cemetery,” Thomas said. “Yoga is about impermanence, with a focus on meditation and rebirth, and so doing yoga in the cemetery is fitting.”
Death may be a sad event for the living and an uncomfortable topic to discuss, but Thomas said its very existence makes it something special and worthy of attention.
“By acknowledging that death is not the opposite of life — but rather, a part of it — we can realize that it is something that connects all humans,” Thomas said. “In the end, death belongs to all of us.”

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