Saturday, 18 May 2013

Latest from Death Cafe in Tucson, Arizona with Kristine Bentz

Write ups of the May Death Cafes by Kristine Bentz 

MAY 3, 2013: Tucson Death Café held a special edition at an extraordinarily scenic location: the Higher Pyre in Tubac, Arizona. About 25 fearless and friendly folks headed south of Tucson to this private property situated near Elephant Head and Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains. While it is not a cremation facility serving the general public as of today, the owners are working toward it becoming a legally operating facility in the future, so individuals and families will have open-air cremation as a disposition choice in Arizona.

The sunset was spectacular, the food was even better, and the company --- well if you’ve been to death café, you know. The company is always interesting and our conversations explore beyond the norms of your everyday ‘party realm’. With a fire burning in a pyre – how could conversations be of an everyday nature, anyway?

We held a brief ceremony to honor our ancestors and then lit the fire in a soundless awe. Under the canopy of a pitch-black night sky, the fire crackled a vibrant and powerful message. Live now. We all stood hushed by the tall flames for a while, and then many of us felt the metaphorical fires lit under our collective behind, to help this pyre become an active facility in the near future!

May 7, 2013: Back in Tucson at Bookman’s Community Room, the usual meeting place & time since December 2012, we met for our biggest gathering yet. Due to this recent article in the Arizona Daily Star, we anticipated more attendance. We were a bit overwhelmed with the 37 people who did come. Growing pains? Yes. And the pains provided helpful lessons.

I’ve heard Jon Underwood explain how the ideal size for a Death Café is somewhere around 10-15 people. This number varies, of course, based on the facility where the gathering occurs, number of facilitators and so on. (After this meeting however, the numbers 10-15 felt even more attractive, if not a bit magical.) Back when our group was this size early on, the experience was smoother and more relaxed, more in-tune with the guiding principles of the Death Café.

As facilitators for May 7th, Cindy and I did our best to come up with ways for being in the small space with a large group in a respectful, fairly quiet, yet active manner. We chose to emphasize the ‘making the most of our finite lives’ aspect of the death cafe principles. We posted these questions around the room on the walls, and participants wrote answers on sticky notes, placing replies on the walls by the question. We asked ourselves:

Who are the happiest people I know and why?

What things do I want to try for the first time?

What places in my own town do I want to explore more?

What are the simple pleasures I want to make more time for?

When do I feel most ALIVE?

Overall, the activity seemed to work fairly well. (Quality sticky notes do help!) Some people expressed enjoyment. Yet a few folks registered dismay for not really looking squarely at death. We sat in a large circle to close and a broader conversation through sharing ensued.

The toughest part of this gathering presented itself afterward. An frail elderly gentleman who was referred to the Café by hospice bereavement staff chose to attend. His wife died in February. He was physically and mentally unable to be safely present and he collapsed in the bookstore afterward.

I mention this laborious and sorrowful part of our learning process so others may take special note: *** we are not a bereavement resource for principle mourners of recent death(s) ***. After this challenging experience, I cannot say this enough.

I see how, as a worldwide movement, we are doing what we can to hold spaces for positive and life-affirming experiences at Death Cafés. In Tucson, Cindy and I hope for people to enjoy themselves and leave with a sense of expanded awareness. To this end, we are changing the time, place and format next Tucson Death Café. We curiously look forward to what the next phase of this adventure holds! We intend to experience a freer-form environment with much less structure and much more freedom to explore topics anybody chooses to dive into with the people they meet. Next Café: Tuesday June 4th from 7-9PM at Monterey Court Studio Galleries and Café, on the north ramada. Learn more at:

1 comment:

  1. A huge and sincere thank you to the wonderful volunteers who make the Death Cafe possible!


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