ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — An international movement with ties to the Capital Region is marking its 10th anniversary of celebrating a topic many people avoid: Death. By normalizing conversations around end of life, many believe it makes individuals better equipped to handle death when it happens in ones’ life.
Since September 2011, people have been getting together around a table to eat sweets, drink tea and discuss death. The free events are called Death Cafes.
The Death Cafe movement was started in the U.K. by Sue Barsky Reid and her son, John. Sue hosted the first one in her home one afternoon.
“It went amazingly well, people were very interested to talk about it, people cried and people laughed as they often do at Death Cafes and we decided ¾ of the time we would talk about death but the last half an hour we needed to talk about life and living and plans for the future,” she said.
Now, ten years later, there are more than 11,000 Death Cafes worldwide, including in the Capital Region.
Kate Murray, a hospice worker, is using her own experience with death in her role as the leader of the Albany Death Café. She along with other hosts, listen and conduct conversations around what some consider a difficult subject matter.
“I think of death and dying as a magical time, as a precious and sacred time and I’m honored to be invited into people’s homes and lives and with that, talking about death with strangers is weird (laughter) but it’s so wonderful, to have somebody else say ‘yeah I felt that same way,'” said Murray.
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the Death Café model and depending on who you ask, for the better. As more individuals began experiencing death in their everyday life, the ability to gather safely was now off the table. As a response death cafes moved their meetings online.
“It was just as intense, I thought it might feel like distant but people spoke very freely,’ said Barsky Reid.
At Colgate University students are getting a head start on learning about death through a new course called “Death, Dying, and Grieving.” Professor Meika Loe says the class has become so popular, she has students messaging her to get a spot in her lectures.
“It’s a course where we much like Death Café, we are trying to normalize conversations about death and dying and grieving. It’s more evident in our world than ever before right now so,” said Loe.
Albany Death Cafe is hosting its next virtual events Wednesday, March 3 and Monday, March 22. See the images below for details.