Thursday, 4 July 2013

Write up from Death Cafe in Cleveland by Chelsea Gumucio

Shelly Barnard, MSSA, LSW (left) and me - Chelsea Gumucio, LISW (right), co-hosts for the event!
Dozens of people joined eFuneral’s Death Cafe to talk about their end-of-life fears, wishes, and hopes.

Individuals began pouring into the small meeting room in the back of the Luna Bakery Café around6pm. Some people came alone and others with family members and friends. Individuals ranged in age from 22 to 85+. There was a nice mix of men and women and people with differing faiths, cultures, and spiritual backgrounds. We had professionals who work in the death care industry as well as individuals who those who work in healthcare. Some attended our last death cafe, and others heard about our last event from the media, friends, or family. One of the newcomers even told me, “I was so excited when I read about this event in the newspaper that I immediately clipped it out and told all of my friends about it.”

When seven o’clock arrived, the room was packed with 55 people; many were standing in the stairwell waiting for further instructions. I reassured individuals that we would keep introductions brief and break into small groups shortly. After a quick introduction to the death café and hearing from eFuneral’s co-founder, Mike Belsito, and Hospice of the Western Reserve’s Communications Coordinator, Laurie Henrichson, we randomly broke the participants up into six smaller groups of eight to ten individuals.

The conversations began with each person introducing themselves to the group and stating what drew them to the death café. Each group proceeded by choosing conversation starters, including questions and quotes, from a mason jar to help guide the conversations. Some groups rarely used their jar because the conversation easily flowed from one topic to another, while others wanted to get through each of the items in the jar.

The conversations were as unique as the individuals in each group. Some discussed living in the face of a terminal illness; others discussed the existence of the soul; some discussed the types of funerals they would want; and still others talked about their bucket lists. Some groups had very intimate conversations that evoked tears at times, while others kept the conversations practical or philosophical.

At the end of the evening, the groups were able to share their feelings and thoughts on the experience with the other groups. One man stated that he felt respected by each of his group members even when their views conflicted. Another individual said the best parts of the evening were the personal stories shared within the group about experiences with death.

Each participant was invited to share additional thoughts on the event in a followup survey. The feedback included the following words:

Diverse, volatile, interesting, provocative, fun, variety of thoughts, great idea, comfortable, practical, relaxed, relating, very open discussion, exciting, educational, motivating, enlightening, amazing, needed, intriguing, reassuring, inspirational, illuminating, empowering, informative, welcoming, well-organized, good, friendly, crowded, opportunity to share, latitude, open, accepting, different, unusual, useful, easy, timely, reassuring, death-defying, reflection, processing, personal, eye-opening, impressive, relaxed, genuine, fun, pleasant, communal, cathartic, peace, thoughtful, sharing, safe environment, insightful, and helpful.
The overwhelming consensus was that providing this event to talk about death and dying is both appreciated and helpful.

Mike Belsito

We are planning the next Cleveland Death Cafe for August! Stay tuned for more details and "Like"eFuneral on Facebook.

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