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"Death Cafes" Scheduled For Next Month At IUPUI

Funeral lillies

Next week, IUPUI’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Services will host the first of three “death cafes,” or forums in which the public can talk about death and dying in a frank, open way.

According to Elaine Voci, a Carmel-based life coach and moderator of the upcoming IUPUI cafes, death cafes “increase awareness of death with a view toward helping people make the most of their lives.”

While popular in Europe for years, death cafes have been catching on in the United States.

Voci started hosting her own cafes last summer. She starts each session with an open-ended question about people’s experiences with death and lets the conversation flow from there. For example, a standard discussion might include the question “How has a loved one’s passing affected your views of dying?”

Voci says the discussion topics are as varied as the participants. She’s seen attendees as young as 20 and as old as 80. Topics can include anything from people’s own end-of-life plans to the ethics of assisted suicide.

Because death is often considered a taboo in many circles, attendees embrace a safe, engaged forum where they can have questions answered and air their own feelings.

“I think that it generally produces a feeling of relief and gratitude in people that this is a place where we can talk about it,” she explains.

While the events are open to the public, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Dean Augustine Agho says learning to talk about death is particularly important for the future health care professionals enrolled in the school of Health and Rehabilitation Services.

“Death is something most of us are not comfortable talking about, as health care professional there’s really no way around it,” he says. “It’s something we see on a daily basis and we have to be comfortable ourselves with the topic in order to work with our patients."

Voci says modern people are more removed from death than ever before.  Americans used to be accustomed to seeing family members die in the home, and would frequently bury their own dead. As death has become more sanitized and private, forums such as the death cafes become necessary.

Organizers emphasize the cafes are not intended to be support groups for those who are grieving the loss of the loved one. In fact, all participants are screened to they aren’t in the grieving process, as the cafes can prove to be “a traumatic experience” for a person in mourning.

Additionally, registration is capped at 25 participants to keep the cafes small and intimate.

According to the school, if the cafes prove popular, IUPUI will consider scheduling more in the future.

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