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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Taboo topics and coffee beans percolate at the Death Cafe

    Shane E. Bekian
    Shane E. Bekian / The Daily Wildcat Members of the Tucson Death Club meet at Big Moe’s Coffee Emporium on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. The group meets monthly to discuss the topic of death.

    A small crowd of strangers begins to filter in as the sun sets on a cramped coffeehouse in central Tucson. Each person has arrived with the same topic on their mind: death.

    Some are regulars, and some are novices, yet all are willing to bear their feelings and thoughts on their own mortality. There are no tears or tissues, as this is not a place for bereavement. If there is a rule at this Tucson Death Cafe meeting, it would be that one should not feel inhibited by their fear of the Grim Reaper.

    “It’s all about empowerment,” said Kristine Bentz, a facilitator of the Tucson Death Cafe. Bentz said the Death Cafe’s concept is rather simple and informal: A group of people coming together in a safe place to discuss death.

    Meeting on a monthly basis at a nearby coffee shop, the Tucson Death Cafe begins with the group of strangers sitting in a circle and sharing how death has or hasn’t touched them recently. The participants listen to many morbid anecdotes between sips of coffee that all inevitably have a similar ending.

    One woman reported a recent experience of washing a dead body inside a funeral home. Another shared his decision to donate his body to the University of Arizona Medical Center after he passes.
    The stories are as versatile as the participants that comprise the Tucson Death Cafe. From World War II veterans to teenage Harry Potter-fanatics, Bentz said that the group is always different each time its participants meet.

    The goal is to help raise an appreciation for life by confronting the inescapable matter of death. It may sound contradictory, but the participants testify to how effective it is to discuss death to enrich their lives.

    Carol Garr is a Wiccan priestess who has been coming to the Tucson Death Cafe frequently since it began almost two years ago. She said that hearing alternative perspectives about the afterlife has made her a more spiritual priestess.

    “We don’t fear death,” said Garr, speaking on the Wiccan faith. “We believe everything is a cycle.”

    For newcomer Carol Keck, the Tucson Death Café now gives her the chance to explore a topic she’s never found to be taboo.
    “Death is something that does not frighten me like it does … some people,” Keck said.

    Keck is surrounded by death in her day job as a hospice worker. She shared with the group that she lost her mother at the age of 20 and has since felt an urge to help others confront their fear of death.

    The Tucson Death Cafe is part of an international movement that started in London three years ago. Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid developed the concept based on the ideas of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, the author of “Death Cafés: Bringing Death Out of Silence.”

    The movement has now expanded to over 1,000 recognized chapters around the world, and the Tucson Death Cafe is one of the first in Arizona.

    The group plans to have its next meeting at the end of October around the time of the All Souls Procession in downtown Tucson. The location has yet to be determined, but prospective participants can stay informed through the Tucson Death Cafe’s Facebook page.

    —Follow Kevin C. Reagan @KevinReaganUA

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