Dying to meet at the Death Cafe

Island Senior Resources invites residents to talk about death at two upcoming Death Cafe events.

Talking about death is much easier when served with a side of cake and a splash of tea.

At a Death Cafe, people gather to talk about their experience with grief and the fear of dying with the goal of making the most out of their finite lives. This unusual tea time tradition originated in the United Kingdom in 2011, and it quickly gained popularity all over the world, including Whidbey Island.

Residents are invited to share their emotions and experiences at two upcoming Death Cafes hosted by Island Senior Resources, which will take place 1-2:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13 at the Oak Harbor Library, and Tuesday, Nov. 14 at the Freeland Library.

Mel Watson, case manager and analyst at Island County Resources, said the organization saw a need for a space that would allow people to openly talk about dying. Their first Death Cafe took place more than four years ago, but it wasn’t until participant Karl Horne asked for more events that Death Cafes became a recurring event, hosted in three different locations once every other month and facilitated by people like Watson and Horne.

The feedback, Watson said, has been overwhelmingly positive. The events have attracted a blend of new and regular participants, which may include parents who have lost their child, people who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses, or professionals who work with dying patients, like nurses.

Topics range from grief to eco-friendly burials, and both Watson and Horne found that participants leave the meetings with a sense of relief. Horne said these discussions allow people to release emotions they have bottled up out of fear of hurting family and friends.

By hosting Death Cafes, Watson and Horne have found some relief themselves.

Horne is 71 and has Parkinson’s disease, a broken back and a 103-year-old mother. Death once felt like a distant event, but now he expects to pass from his condition.

To Watson, who has lost her parents, Death Cafes provide an opportunity to connect with other people, find meaning in life and feel inspired to move on and treat people with kindness.

“My mind is just constantly blown by the real life experiences that people have had,” she said. “It makes you just feel so incredibly close to other people.”

Anyone can host their own Death Cafe. Horne, for example, has hosted some online events.

“It allows me to serve my community, which is something that’s fulfilling to me,” Horne said.

For more information about the event, contact Island Senior Resources at 360-321-1600.