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Durangoans to have taboo conversation

By Ann Butler Herald staff writer

In a society where death is considered a subject too morbid for polite conversation, a chance to discuss the end of life is a rare opportunity.

On Wednesday, 3rd Ave. Arts is hosting Durango’s first Death Cafe, where tea and cake will be served along with a discussion of the sensitive topic.

The cafe, part of an international social movement, is intended “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives,” according to the Death Cafe website. “Death Cafes are an accessible, respectful and confidential space, with no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action.”

The Death Cafe movement started in France when Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz set up the first Café Mortel in Paris in 2010. But it didn’t become a movement until Jon Underwood of Hackney, East London, held his first Death Cafe in his basement in September 2011. His mother, a psychotherapist, served as facilitator.

“When people sit down to talk about death, they talk authentically and openly with no pretense,” Underwood, a self-proclaimed “death entrepreneur,” told National Public Radio in March. “They say things in front of strangers that are profound and beautiful. For the English, with our stiff-upper-lip tradition, that’s really something.”

C. Scott Hagler, the executive director of 3rd Ave. Arts, heard that interview on NPR. After a little research, he discovered the nonprofit all-volunteer Death Cafe movement has now spread to more than 300 events in nine countries. Death Cafes have thus far been held in a range of places, such as funky cafes, people’s homes, a yurt and the Royal Festival Hall.

“As a society, we’re not good about talking about death, so the idea of hosting the event as part of our Sacred Arts Festival was very appealing,” Hagler said. “Plus, it fits beautifully with this year’s Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead theme.”

Hagler recruited Ginny Brown to facilitate the discussion, although in general, Underwood says, people come with plenty to say.

“It ends up being a bigger conversation as we acknowledge that we’re going to die,” Underwood said, “and we ask, ‘What is it important for me to do in the time I have left?’”


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