Death is the great equalizer and the common thread shared with all past, present and most likely future inhabitants of this planet. And just as we're all going to die (great news!), we all have to eat. One Dallas event means to combine two of humanity's inescapable rituals.
A new discussion group has emerged in Dallas to help people talk and become more comfortable with the inevitable. Death Café is a monthly meet-up group, hosted at CocoAndré Chocolatier in Bishop Arts, made up of individuals from all walks of life, where anyone can discuss any subject pertaining to life or death, while eating chocolate and sipping coffee.
This discussion starts with a warm introduction from the host, followed by a brief meet-and-greet with each person in the room. Some come just to listen, and others come to share experiences or give insights. It's a judgment-free zone and relatively anonymous, where anyone can say anything they want without backlash. Near death experiences, suicidal thoughts, extreme domestic abuse, survivor guilt and existentialism are all openly examined and shared with the kind of trust, care and honesty one could only expect from a best friend or blood relative.
About 40 people attended the last meeting, jammed into a room on a warm Wednesday evening. Hospice workers, morticians and the survivors of near death experiences first took the lead in the discussion sharing personal stories, answering questions as the mood of the room rapidly shifted among comical, tragic and everything in between.
“Beautiful energy radiates from a person as they're dying with their family surrounding them," said one woman, a hospice worker who's seen her share of death. "It’s a beautiful thing, the death of the ego. Family members should be responsible with that energy and say, ‘It’s OK, go ahead and go’. It’s not about you, it’s about them.”
The room was at ease as some group members recalled and shared situations they'd witnessed while watching over the passing of a loved one. Death plans were then discussed as being just as important as life plans.
An older gentleman and his family shared news of an open heart surgery the man was scheduled to have in the upcoming weeks. He told the group that since his heart condition was detected, he had received 17 stents and even died briefly before being revived. Now the man was in need of a major surgery upon recommendation of his cardiologist.
“Well, it is what it is," he said. "You can’t stop living your life in the meantime, and I’m not going to stop.”
He admitted to being nervous, but was facing his surgery with grace. With his son at his side, the man's vigor and grit radiated throughout the room as all listened carefully when he spoke. The group wished him a speedy recovery.
Meanwhile, car accidents and suicides seemed to be the leading cause of premature death in just about everyone’s experiences. One woman discussed the death of her best friend’s boyfriend by suicide, and then the dream sequence that followed in which he paid her a visit, asking her to look after his girlfriend now. Others reflected upon their own lives, some filled with violence, while expressing both remorse and gratitude for still being alive.
“I feel lucky to be alive and it’s good to hear that it’s on other people’s mind too," said a middle-aged man. "I was around death a lot. In my previous line of work a lot of people died and it was extremely common. It hardened me, but it’s all behind me now. I run into people that used to know me and they say, ‘I can't believe you’re still alive.’ That made me realize how lucky I was. ... I almost became a statistic.”
The group seemed to generally agree that in America, death is a taboo subject matter and that discussing it openly and honestly can help educate people on how to live their final moments with peace.
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“America is the only country I have been to in the world that death wasn’t a part of the culture," said a middle-aged foreign woman. "This deep discomfort we may have with our own mortality can be seen in our obsession with youth and beauty.”
Death Café is meant to make guests feel comfortable with death by normalizing the subject in cultural environments. As the group pointed out, discussing death doesn't always have to feel morbid. At Death Café, the subject is broached as a peaceful, casual and even humorous way. Death is bittersweet, and that’s the whole point. By expanding the consciousness of death, Death Café is actually helping people live better.
“No matter what you believe, it can all be chalked up to a simple analogy," said a woman in her mid-20s. "It’s like your body is a cup filled with your consciousness ... the water. Maybe when you die, the water in your cup dissolves and you rejoin the ocean.”
The next Death Café is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 22 at CocoAndré in Oak Cliff.