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Free-flowing conversation at Death Cafe

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One of the lesser-known groups on campus is the Death Cafe. Professor of English Philip Jude Weitl and Associate Professor of Biology Tessa Durham Brooks host the Death Cafe bi-monthly on Saturday mornings as a way to openly discuss the topics of death and mortality. 

Death Cafes have sprung up all over the world since 2011 and Doane began its own in Jan 2019. Despite the group’s ominous name, the Death Cafe is a relaxed and respectful conversation about death that is led by those who attend.

“They’re really about whatever the group needs them to be with the exception of it being therapy or support groups. It’s really more of a discussion forum, a ‘salon’-- the old fashioned term,” Weitl said. 

Brooks and Weitl used to hold the meetings at the Brew House in downtown Crete but with the pandemic, they have moved it to Zoom. This change has come with surprising advantages, though. 

“We had people from both coasts, someone from the New England area, someone from the West Coast, someone from Budapest. We had just a nice variety there and topics that I never thought about before so that’s a really cool thing about Death Cafes,” Brooks said. 

Brooks and Weitl stress the importance of knowing how to communicate in an open and non-judgemental manner, like you would see in a Death Cafe. 

“Nobody has the authority in the context of that conversation. That is another important aspect of it too, is really respecting everybody’s contribution,” Brooks said. 

The purpose of a Death Cafe is not just merely to discuss death; it is about sharing ideas and formulating one’s own thoughts about the topic while also getting to know other people well through a vulnerable topic. Weitl said the communication skills learned and practiced at Death Cafes are useful and sought after by employers because that skillset has been greatly diminished.

“Yeah, we’re talking about death but we're also practicing an art that is somewhat lost and is probably necessary… a lot of it is being about to listen and work with other people, it’s not to judge,” Weitl said. 

Level 300 LAR classes taught by Brooks and Weitl at Doane will be holding their own themed cafes in the future as the structure of the event meets requirements for almost all topics.

As for the Death Cafe itself, the next meeting will be held in early Nov via Zoom.

Dates for both the LAR cafes and the Death Cafe will be announced through a campus-wide email as the details become available. For more information about Death Cafes, visit deathcafe.com