The Thrill Talks About the Death Cafe

death cafe

Typically my MO here on the Thrill is that I go to an event or watch a movie, or in some way subject myself to something terrible and/or degrading, and then I write about every facet of each absurd moment of it, interpreted from multiple degrees and lenses. Essentially, what I do here is like being a liberal arts student and a jackass at the same time–though I’m not one to repeat myself.

I bring this up because this week I thought it would be fun or funny in some way to attend the Death Cafe, and do a little Thrill style write up about it. In retrospect I’m not sure why I thought this. It’s called Death Cafe, and I don’t know, the first image that comes to mind for me there is like Wiggin Street but everybody’s a ghost or a skeleton, and they sell coffins instead of coffee. Everybody’s eating brains and there’s smoke and fog everywhere. I know I know, but my brain is broken and this is what you get. To me, the name was overblown and cartoonish, and it sounded morbidly funny, which under these levels of irony is always a good time.

The truth is that the Death Cafe is not overblown or cartoonish, nor is it any kind of new age fad. Instead, Death Cafe is more of a sanctuary than anything else. The premise is that it is a place where you can talk about death, lost loved ones, anxieties, sadness, anything related to the endings of things. This may not sound appealing on the outset, but I think it may be for some important and essential, if not just a healthy break. Follow me here. This event isn’t necessarily some metaphysical abstract discourse on the nature of death. It’s not even necessarily strictly about death, so much as it is about loss. When I arrived, (very late, see aforementioned “jackass” line) I joined one of the two small and intimate discussion groups, who were already waist-deep in a very personal talk about the loss we have to face throughout our lives. These discussions are propelled by the Cafe’s founder Jacki Mann, a hospice nurse and life and death coach, who provides the questions, and sits on the floor of the discussion despite the extra empty chair, just in case anyone were to walk in and need it perhaps. Or maybe to just be a kind of overseer, switching from group to group, yet always genuinely interested in whoever is speaking or whatever they are speaking about.

One of the women in the discussion group I sat in for spoke at length about how each phase of our lives, that being some age range tethered to a central location, will come to an end, and that this in itself is its own kind of death. This is kind of abstract, but it will happen to all of us. When we leave Kenyon, our life, the people we were here, dies. Our relationships, our habits, our place within the larger framework of these old stone buildings that leak and occasionally house bats in the rafters, that all is left to memory. At one point she said “The moment one is born there’s a loss, an abandonment,” which in the context, touched me.

It’s very easy to read a statement like that and roll your eyes. It looks like something you’d see written in Word Art above a picture of Peter Griffin with red eyes and laughing emojis. See, truth or not, a statement like that doesn’t matter if it’s said at a Peirce table or in class. The presentation usually stinks of someone who believes they’re saying something profound, or someone you think is trying to be profound because they actually believe that they are profound and special and actually they taught themselves philosophy to understand this one chapter of Infinite Jest which was you know no big deal. The way we talk to each other is always in some way marred by presentation, right? Letting on to others that we know and feel the alright things to know and feel. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t socially perform at all, that would make us infants. But it’s very difficult to communicate truths like these, truths that maybe we think about more than we let on, in the social context we’re in. At least it usually is without alcohol. They’re difficult to articulate and more difficult to hear, especially when man you’re just trying to take a minute to eat a Tollhouse pie before getting back to your novella workshop and those cover letters for jobs you won’t get. The thing about the Death Cafe is that it’s a place for open listening and understanding. You don’t have to articulate things the best, you just have to say your thoughts the way they sound when they crash against your brain. You can just be, for a second, and deal with the things that make your schoolwork feel heavier than it really is. Unless you’re a STEM kid, then it really is just a lot. It’s nice to talk about death and the things that scare us in a way that’s not ironically nihilistic. Death Cafe gives you a space outside our culture that lets you do that. It may not be the cool thing to go to, but since when has anything that has made us feel more whole and okay, in the darkdown sad parts of us, ever been cool?

As usual I’ve gone on too long. The Death Cafe, will be held monthly in Woollam House. Where the fuck is Woollam House? It’s to the right of Bexley if you’re facing it, the first house past the NCAs if you’re heading to the north graveyard or port. Is port still around? Everyone there is open and accepting and non-judgemental and helps to create some really profound and beautiful dialogue that you (yes YOU) can be a part of. I recommend it highly. But I also watched the jackalope movie so what do I know. Give it a chance. Keep your eyes open for emails, if you so wish.

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