Sunday Seniors: Death Cafe Provides Setting for Difficult Discussions

Valley News Calendar Editor
Monday, November 05, 2018

Norwich — Death is a taboo subject. It’s difficult to talk about and to imagine. Depending on the context, it can be a contentious topic that people go out of their way to avoid.

A community liaison at Bayada Hospice, nurse Cynthia Stadler hopes to make people more comfortable with discussing death openly at a “Death Cafe” discussion group. Currently, it meets every other month at Open Door Integrative Wellness at 18 N. Main St. in White River Junction.

The next meeting is from 5:30-7 p.m. on Nov. 14.

Registration is requested by emailing Stadler at cjmstadler@gmail.com.

“It is a really positive program,” Stadler said. “In my mind this is all about helping people think about what matters to them.”

The Death Cafe is based on an international program that was founded in 2010 by Jon Underwood in England. In order to use the title “Death Cafe,” groups must hold group-directed discussions with no agenda or objectives; be not for profit; be held in an accessible, respectful, confidential space; have no intention of leading others to any specific conclusion or course of action; and have refreshments, according to a presentation Stadler gave.

Don’t be put off by the name Death Cafe. It’s part of breaking the taboo.

“It’s purposely provocative,” Stadler said. “We don’t talk about death. It jars you a little bit.”

While older adults make up the majority of the group, people of all ages attend.

“There’s all kinds of people who come,” Stadler said. “It’s different every single time.”

Although Stadler works for a hospice organization and is able to provide information about that type of care, she does not push any point of view and is not there to convince anyone to change their beliefs, per the Death Cafe regulations. She does pose questions to the group to spur discussion.

Such questions include: Why are so many people uncomfortable talking about death? What is a good death? What are you most afraid of when thinking about your own death?

“No one gets put on the spot,” Stadler said. People are not required to answer questions though they are asked their names and why they decided to attend. The sessions can include up to 30 people and last for an hour or an hour and a half, depending on how the discussion goes.

One thing to consider is what it means to have a good death. Some who attend the Death Cafe are coping with a terminal illness.

“People don’t want to think about it and then they get a lot of unwanted care,” Stadler said. “And it’s only because people haven’t prepared.”

Those who attend are usually “already someone who wants to think about these things,” Stadler said. It might be the only space that they feel comfortable talking about the topic. “People find it very comforting.”

In conversation with other group members, they might open their minds to other perspectives.

“Death’s not inherently a medical process. It’s a life event,” Stadler said. “We don’t have to be afraid of it, even though it’s scary and painful and you’re facing the unknown.”

Some people attend regularly, others only a couple times. While the Death Cafe is not a grief support group, Stadler can direct people to them and additional forms of support. She also has advance directives available at each session.

Decisions don’t need to be made at the group. It’s simply a discussion space where people can talk freely about a topic they might not feel comfortable talking about with others.

“It’s not something our society is comfortable dealing with,” Stadler said.

Which is why it’s so important to talk about.

End of Life Film Series

On every Tuesday in November from 1:30-3 p.m., the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center and Bayada Hospice will be hosting an End-of-Life film series and discussion at the D-H Aging Resource Center Annex in the Upper Valley Senior Center at 10 Campbell St., in Lebanon.

The event is free and people can attend as many of the sessions as they would like. Registration is highly recommended and people can do so by calling 603-653-3460. The film schedule is as follows:

Nov. 6: Nine to Ninety

Nov. 13: Being Mortal

Nov. 20: End Game

Nov. 27: Extremis

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.