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A Death Cafe in Tucson, really?

We gathered at the Community Room at Bookman's Used Book Store.

We gathered at the Community Room at Bookman’s Used Book Store.

Yes, it is true. On December 4, 2012 co-facilitator Cindy Whitehead and I launched a Death Cafe right here in the Old Pueblo. We had quite a lively time, the fourteen of us who met for tea and conversation about death and dying. We shared compelling, cathartic and sometimes humorous stories. We swapped contacts and resources. We all learned.

And we all left our cafe experience feeling affirmed and uplifted — because yes — talking openly about death may help you realize how life is so GOOD! As a Life-Cycle Celebrant® who works with people to help acknowledge end-of-life and after death milestones through ceremonies like memorials, I am familiar with this territory. Cindy is very familiar as well, because she currently works as a hospice nurse in Tucson.

The point of holding a Death Cafe is to open a safe and relaxed conversation about the all too often taboo ‘d’ word, so we may build awareness of impermanence and thereby make the most of our [finite] lives. Turns out all twelve of our guests strongly agreed the cafe was a positive experience. A few mentioned their relief while being in a place where people actively ‘de-mystified death’. People used words like these to describe their experience:

“surprising           interesting                fun             informative          refreshing

educational              lively              different           humorous             thought-provoking”

I do realize this is not for everybody. Facing death and dying in our western, often youth-worshiping culture is not easy. The idea may take some time to warm up to for folks; the name itself is a kind of filter so people who feel a readiness or curiosity for the topics may be relatively at ease. It is not an event meant for people who are in the processes of either actively dying or freshly navigating bereavement. These are straits where specific support groups via care networks or hospice may have a clear and actively helpful role.

I chewed on the idea of launching a Tucson Death Cafe for a few months last summer, based upon the brave work of Lizzy Miles bringing the concept to the U.S.  from Jon Underwood in the U.K. For two years prior, I held and led monthly meetings in the Meetup format, mostly considering natural and family-led death care topics. The appeal of the Death Cafe is much stronger than the Meetup format. It is open, informal, completely accessible and organic – with international momentum – which makes it such an expansive and heart-opening experience to facilitate!

Here are a few of the guiding principles we follow:

  • The event is free from ideology: It is against Death Café principles to lead participants towards any conclusions about life, death or life after death, apart from your own thoughts.
  • The event will feel safe and nurturing, which includes offering nice refreshments!
  • The event is accessible and respectful of all, regardless of gender orientation, religion/faith, ethnicity, and disability.
  • The conversations shared are confidential.  No individual stories should be retold.

And to this list I might add a Tucson dimension, where Dia de los Muertos culture is so present: whenever you find blingy shoes or accessories like these, please feel free wear them to our next death cafe . . . and please enjoy living each beautiful day in front of you, too.

My official TDC shoes!

My official TDC shoes!

To learn more about us locally please visit: We meet first Tuesdays at 4:00PM, in the Community Room at Bookman’s on Grant and Campbell. Since New Year’s Day is on the next first Tuesday, we’ll next meet January 8, 2013.

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