Friday, 12 July 2013

Death Café Report from Brattleboro, Vermont

By Cheryl Richards, Hospice Care Coordinator, Bereavement Counselor, and Death Café Facilitator

On the 13th of June, it was a dark and stormy night . . . until the lights came on when Brattleboro Area Hospice hosted Vermont’s first Death Café at Amy’s Bakery Arts Café in downtown Brattleboro. And what a time we had! There had been steady interest in the event from the posters we papered all over town, but after two newspaper articles and radio interviews, my phone was “ringing off the hook” with people calling to reserve seats. We were filled to capacity with 36 attendees, 5 hospice team members and a waiting list of people wanting to come to the next one. People were standing in the rain in hopes that some of those with reservations wouldn’t show up.

As people came in they were presented with a slip of paper describing the procedure for ordering food & drink (hospice team members would bring them their orders), finding a place to sit at small tables seating five, and what to do if they needed assistance from staff or a break from the discussions. Tables were graced with flowers arranged by a hospice volunteer (taken home afterward by one of the members from each table) and a laminated card with a humorous death related cartoon on one side and possible discussion topics on the other. After a brief description of the history and purposes of the international Death Café movement, introduction of the hospice team, and outline of the evening, we got to it! If people came to the event feeling shy; they didn’t stay that way. The noise level in the café grew to magnificent proportions (that was the only negative feedback we got). Of the 36 participants, one third was men. The majority were boomers and older, although ages ranged from mid-twenties to eighties.

Our hospice team was thrilled to see that while there were a few hospice aficionados present, most of the people who came were simply community members intrigued by the idea of sharing life-enriching conversation about death. Feedback from participants further confirmed this notion:

“People spoke openly about their feelings and experiences of death, a conversation I’ve never been able to have before.”

“I experienced what I didn’t expect, though I really didn’t know what to expect.”

“I loved the range of ages in our group. I loved the new insights and perspectives.”

“This was awesome! Please do it again! Great to have the opportunity to share with and be nourished by fellow “death heads”! So much joy!”

“After being here, I feel I can talk more freely about these topics.”

“A chance to talk with interesting people about what is always on my mind.”

“I want to be in more conversations about death!”

“I came feeling anxiety that I’d have nothing to say in the conversations, and am leaving wishing it was another 2 hours long.”

“I came with my daughter and I got to hear her thoughts and she got to hear mine. That was wonderful.”

In the last half hour each small group reported to the rest of the room on the topics they discussed - the range was unlimited and included: intelligent optimism, partnership with your own process of death, fear of dying, fear of the process of dying, being proactive about planning how you want to die, consciousness not being limited to this realm, how to encourage loved ones to be one’s partners in the dying process, death as an opportunity for personal honesty, cremation, green burial and paranormal experiences taking place following the death of a loved one. People reported the Death Café experience as comfortable, supporting a full range of emotions – from tears to raucous laughter, easier than anticipated, energy charged, inspirational and fun.

We are looking forward to hosting more Death Cafés in the future and will notify the public through our website and , or I can be contacted directly at 802-257-0775 X 108 or

Thank you everyone who was involved, from Jon and Lizzy to my fellow hospice mates, and all the history making Vermonters who dared to come to the first one!

Cheryl M. Richards

Brattleboro VT Death Café Organizer/Facilitator

1 comment:

  1. Strange concept... interesting... our Meditation Group has joined this movement and has scheduled an upcoming session very soon. Annapolis, MD. John Potts


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