Death Cafe destigmatizes the end of life

By confronting mortality, people can make the most out of life

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

The impermanence of life affects us all, but mortality is seldom discussed. The Oak Park Death Café normalizes conversations about death, while helping people grapple with mortality and encouraging them to lead a life well-lived. 

 "I think people hear the name and they think it's morbid, but really it's awareness that we have this one life to live here on Earth and, whatever our religious and spiritual beliefs, we share this common birth, breath and death transition," said café facilitator Katie Tyrell Weimann.

Weimann is a palliative care social work student and is also studying to become a certified end-of-life doula. End-of-life doulas work in conjunction with hospice to ease the transition between life and death.

According to Weimann, doulas work with individuals and their families from the time of diagnosis through the end, including the grief period.

In Death cafés, groups of 10-12 people gather to talk about anything that falls under the umbrella of death, including grief, fear, their own mortality and that of loved ones. 

"Death is sort of like this hidden secret that's always around and no one talks about it," said Weimann. "Death cafés are a safe place for people to talk about it."

Having those conversations helps people make decisions regarding end-of-life care earlier, not in the final moments of a person's life when people are in a heightened emotional state.

In 2011, Death Café founder Jon Underwood held the first session in London. Since then, Death cafés have started popping up throughout the world.

Dubbed "social franchises," Death cafés are neither support groups nor professional counseling sessions, but Weimann provides information about where to find those services.

Oak Park's next Death Café meets Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. inside the Oak Park Public Library at 834 Lake St. Admission is free.

The café is very effective and helpful, according to Weimann, because attendees continue coming to sessions. 

"I get a lot of side messages that say, 'Thank you so much; that was a really important conversation for me to have,'" she said.

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