By Matt Coutu
When first hearing of a Death Café, the idea might seem a bit morbid at first, but it is anything other than gruesome. In Montpelier, Michelle Acciavatti and Fred Cheyette are two of the four Death Café facilitators working to break down social barriers containing the stigma known as death.
“I call myself an End-of-Life Specialist,” Acciavatti says. “I assist people with advanced care planning, and through my work, I’ve discovered that one of the major obstacles with pre-planning death is actually talking about death. That’s why Death Café was created; to take the concepts of death and dying out of the closet, and make it a normal thing to have conversations about.”
Contrary to what it sounds like, Death Cafés are not standalone buildings. In fact, they are typically held at other establishments. Strangers are invited to gather at the selected location and eat light foods, as well as drink tea or coffee. At these events, the concept of death is discussed in an open, comfortable environment.
“The Death Café is important because it’s a safe place for anyone to come and have conversations about a sensitive subject, that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to have elsewhere,” says Cheyette. “The primary objective is to increase the awareness of death, and help people make the most of their lives.”
Typically, the leaders of the café facilitate the discussion of death without any intentions or themes. All Death Cafés are operated on a not-for-profit basis in an accessible, respectful, and confidential space. There is never any intention of leading people to a particular conclusion or course of action. However, the facilitators urge future attendees to understand that the café is not a grief support or counseling session, as there are very few topics that are off-limits to discuss.
Initially developed by Jon Underwood and his mother, Sue Barsky Reid, a psychotherapist, the Death Café was established in the United Kingdom in September of 2011. Since then, it has spread rapidly across Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia.
The Montpelier Death Café was created by Ellen Fein, Anne Lewis, and Cheyette in 2013 at the North Branch Café and has been held there ever since. The group typically meets the third Thursday of every month at 5:30 p.m., and hosts a mix of novice and experienced attendees every meeting from a variety of ages and walks of life. Everything said at the café is completely confidential, and anyone who is interested is urged to attend.
More information about the group can be found on its Facebook page or at deathcafe.com.