By ALEX MILLER, Daily Column of Bozeman
LIVINGSTON, Mont. (AP) – White paper panels provided a sort of breadcrumb trail to the second floor of the Shane Lalani Center for the Arts. In a room next to a dark rehearsal space, Mariana Olsen and her husband Will Bernard were busy making coffee and snacks.
On a small table next to Oreos and other goodies was a plastic skull that Bernard named Edward wearing a flat-brimmed hat, silently welcoming visitors to the city’s very first Death Café.
The point of a Death Café is not to focus on the gruesome or horrific aspects of death. Rather, it serves as a common space where people can discuss everything related to death, from the immediate feelings of losing a loved one to funeral expenses and the administrative aspect of death, all while enjoying coffee, tea and coffee. snacks.
The idea to bring a Death Café here came to Olsen after two deaths that she experienced firsthand last year. She euthanized her cat in April 2020, and went down to a rabbit hole to better understand how to discuss and explain this death to her daughter.
Then, in September 2020, her father passed away. She was in the room when her father perished, but in the days leading up to his death she feared she would not see him due to COVID-19 protocols. She had devised a plan to break in by scaling the walls of the hospital to see him – a plan she didn’t need after hospital staff gave her permission to be in the room. .
The research she had conducted on death over the previous months had prepared her for this moment, but she was quickly faced with the reality that death is a taboo that few people want – or know how – Talk.
“When my dad died it was really isolating,” Olsen told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “I really didn’t have anyone to talk to, I didn’t know what to say, no one really knew what to say to me. And I just realized there’s a bit of that really awkward space when it comes to talking about death.
Bernard Crettaz, Swiss sociologist, created the first version of Death Café in 2004, naming it Café Mortels. The model of this first meeting was used by an English duo in 2011 to influence what Death Cafés are today: a meeting intended to allow a fluid, confidential and non-judgmental dialogue about death.
Although Olsen and Bernard’s cafe was the first of its kind in Livingston, there have been over 13,000 Death Cafés in 80 countries over the past decade.
This meeting was small and intimate, with only three people in attendance to discuss their experiences with death. Due to the personal nature of their stories, participants asked not to be named.
One person had been to at least three or four Death Cafés before. The other coffee lovers had heard of them and, after seeing the Olsen Facebook event, wanted to come and experience the space where they could share and listen to experiences with death.
There was no real structure to the conversations outside of some icebreakers that Olsen and Bernard had prepared, but there were tears, laughter and nods of agreement over the difficulty of the topic at hand. study.
One question was about how they viewed their own death.
One participant said she recently became a mother and reflected on how it changed her view of death. Previously, she had come to terms with her own mortality, but having a child put life in a different perspective.
“It’s easier to come to terms with your own death than the eventual death of your child,” she said.
Another wanted to live long enough to see her son turn 18.
“When he was 18, I was like ‘Yes! I did it, ”she said.
Death Cafés are nonprofit “social franchises”, Olsen said. They are not mission or goal oriented, and they are not trying to sell anything. But Olsen hoped that this coffee and others like it would plant a seed in people’s minds to view death in more real terms.
“I think we need to humanize death again by talking about it, putting a face on it and making it okay to talk about it, allowing people to cry about it, and even making it so. ‘It’s okay to laugh about it,’ she said.
In the 18 months since the start of the pandemic, death has become all too familiar and, to some extent, impersonal. In County Gallatin, 69 people have died from complications from COVID-19.
Although survival rates for COVID-19 are high but can vary based on age, medical conditions and other factors, Olsen said it is the dehumanization of the smaller percentage of those who die from the virus , and the way people perceive it, that worries him.
“We depersonalized it because we think in numbers, and it became political,” Olsen said. “And it’s really, really scary because the cost is something a lot of people won’t see until it’s too late.”
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