To philosophize is nothing else but to prepare for death. — Cicero
On a warm winter afternoon, strangers slowly enter Feldman Mortuary. Led into an adjoining room, they are encouraged to sample fresh coffee, assorted teas and an exquisite cake.
There is no funeral at the mortuary today — but death is not taking a holiday.
In fact, death is on everyone’s mind.
Welcome to the Death Café, a global, grassroots conversation about our mortality that was founded by the UK’s John Underwood in 2010.
It’s estimated that 500 Death Cafés operate throughout the US alone. Countless others exist in Paris, London and other foreign locales.
Normally held in coffee shops, some patrons find the conversations too unsettling, while the general din often distracts participants.
What could be more fitting than a mortuary?
This is my first Death Café.
I have long been obsessed with the eternal night — or light — awaiting me. When it comes to the afterlife, my mind is an unmade bed.
Two extremes tug at me. Either I will plunge into absolute nothingness; or be transported to another sphere of being. I base this dichotomy on empirical evidence.
My father died in abject fear. Mom flew away like a contented butterfly. I can’t tell you where they are now, only how they left.
Jamie Sarché, Feldman’s director of outreach and prearranged planning, is the first person to greet me. She introduces me to Anita Larson, organizer of the cafés in Denver.
Larson is a lovely, tranquil woman who exudes comfort and humor. “I want to teach people to talk about death before they die,” she says. “I’m a student too.”
Like the majority of attendees, Larson’s fascination with death stems from her own life. “I’ve been to 50 funerals for family and friends,” she says.
I quickly learn that Death Cafés are the antithesis of morbid.
“It’s interesting to see how people come to cafés with preconceived notions, then are totally surprised to hear so much laughter,” Larson says.
Laughter is indeed ubiquitous, emerging at the oddest moments. Instead of nervous giggles, it rivals the explosive power of a volcano.
As we enjoy the cake and exchange names, the ambience in the room resembles a prelude to a party.
All that’s missing is the guest of honor . . .