Life & Style
Let’s Talk About Death
From left to right, Stephen Sarfaty, Alicia Doyle, Lisa Sarfaty, and Angela Christie, all of Madison, will be hosting a Death Cafe discussion on Saturday, April 14 at 2 p.m. at the Guilford Free Library. All are welcome. (Photo by Pem McNerney/The Source)
Cup of tea on a black glass table, framed by the reflection of a skylight in the roof)
It might sound grim, a group of people sitting around talking about death.
Most of us fear death and sometimes endeavor to bury those fears in distractions, large and small, some of them healthy. Others? Not so much.
But Lisa Sarfaty of Madison says talking about death, with the right group, can be anything but grim. In fact, she says that participants in an upcoming Death Cafe at the Guilford Free Library, 67 Park Street, Guilford on Saturday, April 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. may find that the contemplation and discussion of death has a profound effect on their lives.
There won’t be a speaker. There will be no set topics. There will be no hidden agenda or proselytizing.
There will be tea and cake, and an open, group-led discussion of death.
Everyone is welcome.
“The Death Cafes and the death positivity movement are really about appreciating your own life.” says Sarfaty, who will host the discussion. “I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of preferences in this life. Even for small things, like how fast my computer should be. Should I ever have to wait two nanoseconds for something to happen on my computer? I can get very annoyed about small things like that and end up swearing at my computer.”
But she adds, if she remembers that “death is my companion, then, I get it. This moment, right now, is my life. It reminds me to be kind. It reminds me that snowstorms are doing to come and go, and there are going to be inconveniences. And, so what? If I pay attention to death, it helps me to be grateful for the moments I am alive.”
Safarty says she wasn’t always so tuned in to life’s little moments. She remembers embarking on a 21-day course of meditation, led by New Age alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra. The focus was abundance. “I thought he was going to teach me how to make more money,” Safarty says.
‘It’s An Attitude Thing’
Initially she was a bit irritated when she figured it wasn’t about getting financially rich. “But I basically learned it was important to be grateful for what I have. It’s an attitude thing.”
Safarty later became a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant. She says her appreciation of the death positivity movement—which encourages an open and honest engagement with death—started when she became involved in celebrancy. “Celebrants are humans who are interested in studying the art and ritual of ceremony. It’s nondenominational and spiritual, but not religious.”
She says many people want to mark big events in their lives—including the birth of babies, christenings, marriages, and funerals—but that they don’t necessary want an organized religious ceremony. “I’m not a big fan of going to a funeral where the funeral service is given by someone who did not know the family,” she says. “There are few things worse than a bad funeral.”
At the same time, she felt strongly that honoring transitions like a death in the family were important and, in fact, a great honor to be a part of. “It deserves the attention we give it,” she says. “We baby boomers want everything personal. Funerals. Weddings. Baby namings. Or maybe someone just came through chemo, and they want a back-to-life ceremony,” she says. “Celebrants do all sorts of things. We’re up for all kinds of ceremonies. It allows people to really appreciate what is in their lives.
While studying the funeral course as part of her celebrancy studies, Safarty came across the concept of a Death Cafe, and thought, ‘I’m going to do that someday,’” she says.
It wasn’t until seven years later that she finally found the time.
“It took me a while to find a place that was available and free,” she says. “You can’t really charge people $20 to come talk about death.”
She says people sometimes do a bit of a double take when she tells them about Death Cafes.
“Often, they just look at you and say, ‘What?!’”
But, she finds as she grows older, she’s finding more people her age amendable to such a discussion. “Maybe they lost their parents. Or they’re dealing with a sick and ailing parent,” she says. “More people become willing to talk about it.”
She says this discussion is designed to be group-directed, with no objectives, and she says it’s not a grief support group or a counseling session.
“It’s not an advice session. But it’s safe and private, and we’re not trying to talk people into anything,” she says.
Safarty will be joined by her co-faciliators including her husband, Stephen Sarfaty, who says he got involved because “I’m involved in everything my wife does,” and because it’s a topic he finds fascinating, adding that death is “the answer to the puzzle, what’s the only thing that every human being has to do.”
Along with the Safartys, will be Alicia Dolce who says her area of expertise is her love of talking with complete strangers, and Angela Christie, who works at a managed care facility she declined to name, saying she wanted to make sure no one thinks it’s her goal to promote that. She also is a dementia practitioner, someone who has been trained to ease the complicated task of caring for someone with dementia.
They say their main goal for the event is to be welcoming and inclusive.
As for the tea and cake, she says she’s not sure what kind, just that there will be sustenance.
“The idea is that it’s a community and one of the ways to become friends is to have food and drink. And always tea. It’s so people can, literally, nourish themselves. And it’s a way of normalizing the discussion, by having snacks,” she says.
She says people should come in with open minds and open hearts.
“Don’t be intimidated. It’s very low key. Don’t worry about not knowing what you’re doing,” she says. “I’m so interested to see who will be coming.”
Information about the national Death Cafe movement is available at deathcafe.com/. Information about the Death Positivity Movement is available at www.orderofthegooddeath.com/about. More information about the celebrant institute is available at www.celebrantinstitute.org/faq.html.