Just You Wait: New ways to talk about death and dying

     (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

    (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

    Americans have been avoiding the topic of death like, well, death itself in recent decades, but in our series “Just You Wait” we predict that this is changing in surprising ways.

    Finding new ways to talk about death

    Therapist and death educator Simcha Raphael has been inviting people to attend death cafes in and around Philadelphia, and, yes, they are just what they sound like.

    “Coffee, cake and talk about death – period,” said Raphael. “It’s not adorned, it’s not covered up, there are no euphemisms around it,” he added.

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    The death cafes have been very popular, and are springing up all over the country.

    The idea is that people are beginning to embrace the idea that we will all die, and that we need to talk about it. How do we want to die? What’s important to us? And, how scared are we?

    So, the goal is to create an outlet where people feel comfortable, and can get to these conversations in a way that doesn’t feel so sad and overwhelming. Raphael says talking to strangers about it strangely may be a good way to start.

    “All of these people, from young people to gray heads and gray beards, I noticed some people who had their heads covered because they are going through chemo,” he said. “Everybody is engaged with each other, and people are laughing and smiling and … talking about death!”

    Raphael adds that it’s more about what’s important to you in life, and making your wishes known to those around you. So often, families have no clue what a loved one wants in terms of their end-of-life care, and suddenly are faced with making really big decisions in crisis situations.

    The “gamification” of death

    A Philadelphia design firm called “Action Mill” has developed a game around the issue of death and dying, it is called “My Gift of Grace.” It was funded through a kickstarter campaign in 2013. Participants pull cards and answer questions about life, death and dying, thus learning more about each other’s wishes and thoughts on the issue. Designer Jethro Heiko says it is not a morbid game.”Our view is, the same way people do a bucket list, they are good things, things that make your life meaningful.”

    These cafes and games are a way to open up an uncomfortable topic, to take the fear out of it, and make it more part of every day life. Death is of course already part of life, we have just chosen to ignore that fact. The baby boomer generation has changed so many aspects of life in America, so as they are hitting a certain age, chances are they are really going to leave their mark on this issue as well.

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