How do we deal with grief? What is palliative care? What about organ – or body — donation? How is end-of-life care paid for?
Those are just some of the questions raised at gatherings known as “death cafés,” where attendees discuss issues surrounding death and dying in a casual, supportive, free-flowing environment.
“It’s always such an interesting conversation,” Roberta Geidner, manager of Horizon/Advance Care Planning and Continuing Care Services at WellSpan Health, told LebTown.
Death cafés, which started in Europe, have spread worldwide. Geidner and other members of the Age Wave Advanced Care Planning Coalition are using them as a tool to educate people across Lebanon County about end-of-life issues and preparing for that period.
The coalition is hosting its next death café via Zoom from noon to 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 21.
Geidner, a trained death café leader, said the gatherings are not a grief support group. But many of the participants share about the losses they’ve experienced, and find comfort and healing.
Some people also consider talking about death and related topics to be a taboo subject, and these discussions are designed to break down that barrier.
According to deathcafe.com, the death café model was developed in England by Jon Underwood and his mother, Sue Barsky Reid, based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist and anthropologist.
Since beginning in September 2011, it has quickly spread across Europe, North America, and Australasia (the region around Australia and New Zealand).
“Our objective is to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives,” the website says. “A death café is a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes.”
The model doesn’t include specific topics, set questions, or guest speakers. “Our view is that, when it comes to death, people have enough to discuss already.”
Geidner said the practice of holding death cafés was brought to Lebanon County several years ago when Brian Long was director of the Aging and Disability Resources program (known as the LINK) for Lebanon, Berks, and Lancaster counties. He has since retired.
In February, the Age Wave Advance Care Planning Coalition co-sponsored a death café with LINK via Zoom.
Usually held in person with refreshments, the local death cafés have switched to Zoom during the pandemic.
Geidner said each session is different.
People who attend start by introducing themselves and explaining why they’ve come. That alone is enough to get the conversation going with questions, she said.
Sometimes Geidner said she’ll talk about something she’s read on a relevant subject.
“I’ve never had the conversation stall,” she said.
There are discussions about advance care planning, powers of attorney, the difference between hospice care and palliative care, how to deal with loss, and many other subjects, Geidner said.
To register for the May 21 event, go to bit.ly/DeathCafe1. A Zoom link will be sent to those who sign up.
“We’re trying to determine how well this works,” she said. If this death café is successful, Geidner said, they may be held regularly.
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