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Sip Tea And Contemplate Mortality At Death Cafe Pittsburgh

“Death Cafés” have popped up in cities across the globe with a mission to engage in open dialogue about death and how death influences life, all while in a casual, comfortable atmosphere.

Co-organizers Rachel Butler, senior research coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Health Care, and Carolyn Thompson, death care professional, joined Essential Pittsburgh to talk death, local Death Cafés and finding meaning in life.

Butler says for many, death is taboo.  Discomfort arises out of fear of the unknown.

“It’s the million dollar question: what’s going to happen to us?” Butler said. “Giving people permission to talk about it [death], they tend to say a lot.”

As veterans of the Death Café scene, Butler and Thompson have noticed obvious differences in how women and men talk about and deal with loss. While women tend to be more nurturing, open-minded and involved in the death care process, men often demand structured discussions.

Thompson stresses that no matter one’s gender, discussing death can have a practical side, like giving loved ones a plan of action for preparation of your own passing.

“You can start to think about the decisions you will make at the end about your own health, but also, how you want to be remembered,” said Thompson.

Although some may find the subject of death to be morbid, Butler said death should be embraced as a part of the life cycle, and should serve as a catalyst to discover life’s meaning.

“I’ve developed an immense sense of gratitude in working with people who are dying,” Butler said. “There’s so much to love about life, and death is a part of that.”

While Thompson notes that death is far more medicalized in America than in other countries, she has seen a shift in funerals becoming more so a celebration of life. That idea, she added, is just what Death Cafés aim to do.

“It is about celebrating in the sense of really having a reverence and a reflection on the value of a person and what their life meant,” Thompson said.

The Pittsburgh Death Café will host its 4th meeting tonight at 6:30 at the Pittsburgh Friends Meeting House in Shadyside.  

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.