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I'm the Local Gal in Richmond, Indiana, exploring my hometown and heart. I write about all thing local, sometimes global. It's a small world after all.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Death Duet: Interview with Indiana's First Death Cafe (Hostesses)

Image via DeathCafe.com (Designed by Phil Cooper of Petit Mal)

Monica Doyle and Jennifer Vines were the gracious hostesses of Indiana's very first Death Cafe, "a place to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death". Death Cafes are being hosted across the globe, as individuals take the initiative to create a space and place to talk about a topic we rarely address and one that inevitably impacts us all.

Although, I was unable to attend the first event, luckily, both Jennifer and Monica took the time to tell me all about it. Included is an invitation to reserve a place at the next Death Cafe this March. Here we go:

What prompted you to host a Death Cafe in Indy?

Jennifer: "I’ve been fascinated with societal attitudes surrounding death since college. Growing up in the Deep South had some specific influence regarding my interest in the topic. Our family had a strange habit of headstone photo ops (posing my aunt and I beside our family members’ headstones). To this day, I have a love of cemetery photography and spend quite a bit of time at Crown Hill."

Monica: "When my father died and our family fell into dysfunction, I came to realize that part of the problem was that we never spoke about death, ever. It was taboo. And I didn’t want that to be the legacy that passed to my children. I want to talk about it."

Can you tell us what the event was like?

Jennifer: "It felt very natural and lacking in pretense or judgment. There was such openness on the part of the participants and some indicated that it’s easier to discuss these topics with strangers as compared to family members. One may wish to discuss various end of life issues with a family member and the family member in question isn’t ready for that conversation." 

Monica: "I was touched by the open hearts, and willingness to approach such a potentially challenging topic." 

Was there anything expected or surprising to you?

Jennifer: "When starting something new, one isn’t quite sure what to expect. However, I had a gut feeling that “our tribe” was out there and in need of a forum such as this one. Death Café has occasionally been characterized by the media as a “baby boomer” movement, but we had participants ranging in age from early 20s to mid 60s. We had about 13 RSVPs prior to the event and 25 people showed up."

Monica: "I suppose I expected a need for the forum, but you never know if anyone will actually decide to partake. And those who did were so lovely to each other, and willing to share."

Image via Death Cafe Indy

Why are these conversations so vital?

Jennifer: "Death is the one thing we will all face yet people are often very uncomfortable with the topic. I think Death Café is an attempt to reflect on the inevitability of death as a means of actualizing a better life. In other words, denial leads to fear and if we accept that our time here is finite, it may lead us to make better use of our time." 

Monica: "Yes, Jennifer is spot on. In past times folks died at home, surrounded by family, and family cared for the after death rituals. Since we have given it over to the funeral industry, death has become more of a stranger."

Could you share a moment or story that stood out as poignant during the event?

Jennifer: "In reflecting on the suicide of a family member, one participant talked about how we often describe the person as selfish for causing extreme pain to those left behind. However, we never think about our own selfishness in expecting a mentally or physically ill person burdened by pain to continue suffering. I’m certainly not condoning suicide, as I have a loved one who experienced a loss by suicide last year. However, it made me think about how that selfishness is a two way street." 
Monica: "One man spoke of his 90+ year old aunt as deciding to forgo food. She was not terminal, but she felt ready to be done. This, for me, opened a Pandora’s box of emotions, especially as regards assisted suicide, do not resuscitate orders, and death with dignity."

Will you host another Death Cafe in Indiana in the future, what can attendees expect?

Jennifer: "We will host the next Death Café on March 15th at the Indy Indie Artist Colony. I guess they can expect the unexpected. Since we don’t set any agenda, the participants drive the discussion. Of course, there will be delicious cake!"

Monica:
 "Yes!"

If able, could you recommend any resources people in Indiana (or anywhere for that matter) could seek out help or counseling on the subject?

Jennifer: "I would be hesitant to recommend anything in the counseling arena, as that isn’t my expertise. Certainly most attendees have lost someone they care about but Death Café isn’t intended to be a forum for grief counseling. There are many fine books on the topic of death and dying; the writings of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross are probably the best place to start. If anyone is interested in being a compassionate companion for those close to death, they may want to consider volunteering for the “No One Dies Alone” program at Eskenazi Health: Palliative Care Program (LINK)"

Monica: "
Agreed."

Thank you Monica and Jennifer for engaging Hoosiers in a very important discussion, and thank you for being a part of the Local-Lady blog. 

<3

the Local Gal

PS

Death Cafe began in London, spread to Ohio and then became a worldwide phenomenon. It's very exciting for this to happen in Indiana. To learn more about Death Cafe, visit the official site and find a Death Cafe near you. 

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