Death Cafe to host 'Let's talk about grief'

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BRATTLEBORO — The current Time magazine cover story on recently widowed Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg features a title many readers may not like: "Let's Talk About Grief."

"People don't even want to think about it," says Cicely Carroll, bereavement care counselor at Brattleboro Area Hospice.

That's why the organization is inviting the public to a "Death Cafe" on Tuesday, April 25, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., to offer some conversation starters around, occasional headlines aside, an often taboo subject.

"Death has become more removed and less talked about," Carroll says. "But it shouldn't be a hidden topic."

The event set for the Restless Rooster restaurant on Elliot Street isn't a support group or counseling session but instead an open-ended discussion about grief, loss and end of life.

"People can be a little nervous, so we offer icebreaker questions," Carroll says. "We try to get them to think about death and the choices they can make and to not be so afraid."

Subject matter varies table to table, with people able to touch on everything from advance directive planning to physician-assisted dying to funeral arrangements for deaths ranging from natural causes to accidents, suicides, crimes, even abortion.

The event is part of an international movement born of the writings of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, who believes discussing death can lead to authenticity in life.

But to do so, people need a place to talk where others are willing to listen. Started in Europe and spread by the internet via deathcafe.com, the effort encourages the public to gather at cafes, coffee shops and restaurants and, guided by a facilitator, discuss feelings surrounding themselves and loved ones.

Brattleboro Area Hospice held the first Death Cafe in Vermont in 2013 and has hosted subsequent sessions three to four times each year since. Many participants have discovered the event can be life-affirming.

"The secret of life is joy — finding it in every single moment," one said at a past gathering. "I'm going to live every day until I die."

The hour-and-a-half evening event is free but, because of space limitations, participants must register by contacting Carroll in advance at 802-257-0775, ext. 108.

"People will put off discussions and always think they have more time than they do, but death is something we're all going to go through," she says. "If you can talk to relative strangers about this with some humor and support, maybe you can try it with family, loved ones and others who matter."

Kevin O'Connor is a Reformer contributor and VTDigger.org correspondent who can be contacted at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.

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