By Elizabeth Miller
Special to the Town Crier
A remarkable new group called Death Cafe has been meeting in Idyllwild for several months now. While the name alone may shake you up, it is anything but disturbing. Here you find a gathering of curious people from wide and far, who meet for two hours over cake and coffee to discuss the only sure thing in life.
Discussions range from the bewilderment of having a loved one die and feeling basically helpless as he or she is whisked away by our funeral system, to what really happens after death, to legalities like health care directives, to Hospice, and to learning all about green burials. Meetings have no agenda and are nondirected. Topics begin spontaneously. Any issue surrounding death and dying is welcome and everything that surfaces is given respectful consideration.
Death Cafe is a worldwide movement catching on like wildfire here in the States, revolving around a subject that is quite taboo. We have forgotten that our ancestors had a cultural map on how to graciously experience death. Family and community support came right into the parlor when grandpa or mother died. In many households it went without question that they would remain at home for a few days before burial.
This simple act gave relatives and friends time to become accustomed to their passing. All day and night food and drink arrived, tears and laughter poured freely, with the result that the bereaved were spared what is increasing found today — complicated and prolonged grief. As writer Teri Uktena says, death has become “like an amputation which we are too shocked to deal with.”
The kind of support our ancestors enjoyed has almost completely dissolved with the advent of the modern funeral industry, emergency services and hospitalization. Once we accepted medicalization of childbirth, back in the ’30s and ’40s, the larger prescription had already been written. More money could be made if we tossed dying into these industries as well. And the general public has become deprived of our once-intimate participation in the ultimate culmination of our loved one’s life.
Death Cafe meets twice a month in Idyllwild at Spirit Mountain Retreat, usually on the fourth Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. In November and December, they will fall on the third week due to holidays.
All are welcome. Because of the close nature of this group the number of participants caps at 12 per meeting. This gives each person many opportunities to share words of experience, wisdom, concern, philosophy and humor — gallows or otherwise.