October 1, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
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Cafe promotes understanding the inevitable: Death

MEDINA — Everybody dies, but few people want to talk about that most fundamental fact.

Keith Rasey doesn’t think it should be taboo.

“It’s something that we all share. We’re all going to die, but we’re not really ready to talk about it,” said Rasey, a chaplain with Pathways Hospice.

Rasey and a colleague, Diann Meredith, are inviting the public to do just that at a “Death Cafe” session 6 p.m. Sunday at Cool Beans Caf←, 103 W. Liberty St..

“We’re trying to promote a more comfortable understanding of death, and promote more sanity, in that we’re all in this together.”

Meredith said she learned from her experience as a hospice nurse the importance of honestly discussing the inevitable.

“This is hand in hand with comfort-directed care,” she said. “Our society is so fast paced, very task oriented, and so we’re creating the space that is safe for someone to come in and not be burdened.

Sunday’s event is a first in Medina County, but Death Cafes are not new.

The movement was started by Jon Underwood in East London, England in September 2011, after he read some works by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz.

A blog page called “Dying to Talk” said Death Cafes emerged from Crettaz’s concept of ‘Cafe Mortal’, born out of the French Philosophy Cafes of the early 20th century. Crettaz believed death could become part of everyday conversation through public discussion groups.

Since Underwood’s first cafe, there have been at least 576 Death Cafes sponsored across the world. The first in America was sponsored by Lizzy Miles in Columbus.

“There are two questions asked: What brought you here tonight, and what are your thoughts and feelings about your own death?” Rasey said.

Rasey said the modern practice of holding funeral services outside of the deceased’s home shows society’s increasing unwillingness to deal with death. That’s something Rasey thinks has caused serious social problems.

He cites Ernest Becker’s 1973 Pulitzer prize-winning book, “The Denial of Death.”

“The argument I think makes the most sense is that death brings up an existential terror,” he said. “The further we’ve gotten from the idea that we are finite, the more craven we’ve gotten in our desire to focus only on this life.”

“That lack of perspective leads to all kinds of behaviors that are bad for people and the Earth. Our denial defines and shapes our character. We abuse ourselves and abuse others and chase things that are ephemeral.”

He said views on death in recent generations have left children with a lack of understanding and even a debilitating fear of being around it.

Rasey cited that a recently deceased patient’s grandchild was not even able to look at the body.

“We’re there to create the space, and listen and guide the conversation along.”

Sunday’s event also is sponsored by Carlson Funeral Home.

Visit deathcafe.com for more information.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.