Friday, 28 June 2013

Write up of Death Cafe in Baltimore with Valerie Sirani and Amy Brown

Death Café Baltimore
June 22, 2013
Atwater’s at Belvedere Square 

Iced tea, iced coffee, chocolate cake, and conversation about death and life were on the menu at Atwater’s at Belvedere Square for the very first Death Café ever to be held in Baltimore. On June 22nd, a total of 29 attendees ranging in age from 18 to 85 years gathered in small groups to discuss issues such as cremation, green burials, the afterlife, advance directives, after-death communication, suicide, death as it is portrayed in movies and fairy tales, and amusing quips on epitaphs. People tackled questions such as, “Does consciousness survive death?” and “What would the world be like if no living creature ever died?” and “What constitutes a good life?” and for that matter, “What constitutes a good death?” 

This event was hosted by Valerie Sirani and Amy Brown. Both Valerie and Amy are registered nurses and both have a particular interest in death and life issues. They first met in May through email generated by Lizzy Miles—a hospice social worker who kickstarted the very first Death Café in Columbus, Ohio, in July of 2012. Valerie and Amy had met Lizzy on separate occasions through ADEC (Association for Death Education and Counseling). Lizzy knew that Baltimore had never hosted a Death Café event and thought that Valerie and Amy would make a great pair of hostesses for such a venue. Lizzy connected Valerie to Amy through email and the rest was history. After just one impromptu meeting over lunch at Atwater’s back in May, Val and Amy decided on June 22nd as the date for the Death Café. Val’s friend Joe Kurtz volunteered to help with the flyer which Val circulated throughout churches, cafes, gyms, community centers, Facebook, and Twitter. Press releases were sent and the event was advertised on community event calendars. WBAL’s reporter Robert Lang did an interview with Val and Amy at Atwater’s Café for radio. Most people close to Val and Amy were intrigued by their plans to host a Death Café. Amy’s Chinese sister-in-law erroneously referred to it as a “Death Buffet.” One of Val’s palliative care physician colleagues felt that the phrase “Death Café” was a bit too direct. Regardless, Val and Amy forged ahead and were determined to proceed with this social movement known as Death Café. Through many emails and creative networking, Val and Amy put together their ideas for the Death Café and hoped for the best—not at all expecting a turnout of 29 guests.

The weather was extremely cooperative for Baltimore’s very first Death Café and the staff of Atwater’s in Belvedere Square was extremely helpful and gracious. Their pastry chef made a scrumptious chocolate cake in the shape of a tombstone. Attendees drank water with fresh slices of cucumber and lemon, iced coffee, and iced tea. The event was held outdoors and it was a lovely June afternoon. Due to the surprising number of attendees, everyone sat in small groups at a table. Each table had a vase of flowers to represent life. Each table also had a container full of handwritten questions for attendees to ponder in the event they needed a conversation starter or ice-breaker. Some of the questions were serious and some were whimsical. One table had no use for the questions and was off and running on their own. Other tables used the questions to lead them down a variety of conversation side streets about death and life.

Based on the 25surveys submitted, the initial response words were: refreshing , surprising, wonderful, good, informative , pleasant, exhilarating, joyous, necessary, meaningful, enlightening, interesting , comforting, inspiring, relaxed, intriguing, challenging, hospitable, “really very good,” unique, friendly, fun, welcoming, summer, existential, stimulating, interactive, garrulous, unusual, eclectic.

Demographically, the age group most represented was people aged 18 to 24 years. Runner-up to that is the age group of 45 to 54 years, followed by people aged 55 to 64 years, then people aged 65 to 74 years. There was one person in the age group of 25 to 34 years and one person aged 85 years. There were three more women than men who completed surveys. Four people claimed to be agnostic, four claimed to be spiritual, four people declined to state their faith/religion/belief system. Two people claimed to be Catholic, two people stated to be Christian, and one person specified that they are an “experiential/intuitive Christian.” There was one Buddhist, one Episcopalian, one non-practicing Catholic, and one “animist/Bahai-ish” person. One person drew a question mark in the space provided. One person wrote: “Religious, but unaffiliated.” One person wrote: “Nondenominational MCCB (Metropolitan Community Church of Baltimore).” One person wrote: Hebraic.

Feedback about the Death Café was very positive with regard to the event structure, the facilitators, and their overall experience. These were the comments pulled from the surveys:

“Great camaraderie!”

“I really enjoyed the outdoor café atmosphere.”

“The questions were very helpful to start conversation.”

“Cool breezes, great food. Thanks for the chocolate cake!”

“Extremely well-done.”

“Atwater’s Café is fabulous!”

“Val and Amy did a great job.”

“It was a comfortable setting. Lively death conversation.” 

“You all are fabulous! You organized this perfectly for a first session.”

“You all did a marvelous job.”

“I thought it was freeform while at the same time being relaxed and comfortable. Not too rigid, just right.”

“These ladies rocked.”

“Great job. The facilitators floated around and stimulated conversations. I enjoyed the breeziness of the location.”

“Glad to attend this event!”

Survey comments regarding the most enjoyable aspect of the event:

“A setting with younger people. I gained a very interesting and unique experience. Loved it!”

“Hearing my tablemates and looking at their eyes.”

“Different viewpoints of each individual.”

“Meeting people. Delicious cake!”

“I liked being able to talk at the individual table with a select few people. Once the room got into a larger scale of talking, people got too shy.”

“Meeting and talking with people.”

“Eclectic group of individuals, comfortable setting, appropriate length/age group.”

“Meeting people with whom I can feel comfortable talking about death.”

“Different perspectives.”

“The company and shared opinions of adults with more experience with death than I.”

“Meeting the younger people attending the group who said they learned something. One young man is interested in a hospice doula program.”

“Really, it was to be able to discuss death openly with others who are also interested in such a topic.”

“The variety of opinions and experiences shared by our very diverse (age, education, culture, religion, gender, profession) group.”

“Interactions with others about a sensitive subject.”

Some suggestions were offered by the attendees:

“Too short! I wanted more time to hang out and discuss things.”

“Got a bit noisy and difficult for me to hear all the comments.”

“Need a formal speaker, like a psychologist versed in hospice.”

“One suggestion is that you create topic tables for future meetings. Maybe vary the meeting days/times.”

“I think a larger group with more facilitation would help discussion (as opposed to smaller tables left to our own).”

Overall, survey responses were very much in favor with interest of attending another Death Café and in suggesting Death Café to friends and family. Plans are already underway for Death Café Baltimore: Round Two!

*** Stop Press *** Death Cafe Baltimore featured in the Baltimore Sun

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say your piece.