Discuss death, eat cake

Published in the Argus Observer February 4, 2015. 

Tea, cake and death were on the menu on Sunday afternoon during Ontario’s first ever Death Cafe, hosted in the Malheur County Library’s meeting room. The practical, casual discussion of the taboo subject was attended by five Ontario residents and facilitated by Ann Bolyard, who is a retired licensed practical nurse from Ontario. Also in attendance were Susan Randall and Sherri Rudai, who are both volunteers with the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Idaho and facilitators of Boise Death Cafes.

“We hold Death Cafes so people have a place to go to discuss the issues surrounding death,” Bolyard explained.

The concept of a Death Cafe began with a Swiss psychiatrist, Bernard Crettaz, who was doing research about death and found that most people had questions on the subject, though they were reluctant to discuss it. He began his first ‘Cafe Mortals’ in 2004. The idea was picked up by Jon Underwood, a web-designer in England who created an internet-based, social franchise which he dubbed Death Cafe. Once the concept was online, it spread throughout the world. The first Death Cafe in the United States was held in Columbus, Ohio in 2012.

“We’re changing the narrative about death,” said Rudai. “Our culture is death-denying and death-defying and my hope for these Death Cafes is that they would recharge our humanity and shed light on such a taboo subject.”

The group discussed options for what happens after death. They touched on cremation and green burials, which are environmentally friendly burials with caskets that are bio-degradable, such as pine-wood, and no embalming of the body. Traditional burials were also brought up, as well as how to approach funeral homes and the varying costs of a funeral in today’s market.

“The average cost for a traditional funeral today could be anywhere between $8,000 and $10,000,” Randall explained, “Families need to know that even though it might seem tacky to ask for a price list when the dignity of their family member is on the line, funeral homes have pricing options.”

The different options for home deaths were also part of the discussion. Home funerals happen when a loved one is cared for after death in the home instead of being transferred to a different facility where someone else is paid to prepare them for burial. The group talked about the different laws associated with home funerals, which are legal in both Oregon and Idaho.

“It’s important that we know we have choices in death-care,” Randall said.

Another topic was the rights of the individual leading up to their death. The group discussed the different legal documents that spell out what doctors can and can not do in the event of a coma or brain death.

“It’s a good idea to have a record your wishes at the hospital so they’re easily accessible,” Bolyard said.

Bolyard explained it is also a good idea to have the details of your funeral lined out to take pressure off of family members. Randall and Rudai pointed out a few resources for planning the end of life ceremony, such as the Funeral Consumers’ Alliance’s planning kit, which is titled Before I Go, You Should Know. The kit breaks down the details of a funeral in a workbook-style format that makes planning easy.

“You have final rights,” Rudai explained. “Everyone deserves an affordable, meaningful, dignified funeral. Death Cafes are a place for finding out end-of-life information and opening up a dialogue about death.”

The next Death Cafe is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Malheur County Library’s meeting room in Ontario on February 28. There will be refreshments.

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