Death and Dying, Death and Dying Education, End-of-Life Education, Health & Wellness

Unique Learning Experiences at Death Cafe Santa Barbara and Death Cafe Santa Monica

In January of 2018 Loretta Downs, M.A. gerontology, and I co-founded Death Café Ajijic aka Café Mortality Ajijic at Lake Chapala, Mexico.

The first café started the next month with the intention of encouraging the mostly retired community to talk about and prepare for end-of-life, not only to save loved ones and neighbors a lot of grief and time, but to provide a space to talk out feelings, hopefully leading to more well-being.

Because we travel a lot, we invited other health professionals in the community to join as volunteer hosts. We have been fortunate. There is now a rotating team to handle responsibilities for the all-volunteer events starting in 2019. We continue to do our best to improve the experience for attendees. One of the best ways for me to learn is to experience other Death Cafes.

For those of you unfamiliar with Death Cafes, they have been in existence since 2011 and are now in 63 countries of the world.  See www.DeathCafe.com for a café near you.

I was recently in Santa Barbara, CA, originally a Spanish mission post, to attend the Santa Barbara Death Café.

It was a pleasure to enter the donated venue at 11 E. Carrillo Street, the Hill-Carrillo Adobe. Beautiful place built in 1825. It is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Hill-Carrillo Adobe, circ 1825, Santa Barbara, CA
Hill-Carrillo Abode, Santa Barbara, CA

There are three dedicated hostesses in Santa Barbara. One of them provides her grandmother’s tea cups and linen. Others bring cake or cookies.  Attendees offer donations to defray expenses.

Death Cafe Santa Barbara tea table

One of the surprises for me was that Santa Barbara Death Cafe provides a mobile library. They bring books in a large carton each month for participants to check out!!  I love this idea!! 

Death Cafe Santa Barbara lending library

Participants in Santa Barbara are all adults, mostly older adults. In a group of about 20, there were two men, one a recent widower.  We introduced ourselves to each other at a long, rectangular table, one by one, sharing briefly what brought us to the café.

Conference table at Hill-Carrillo Adobe, Santa Barbara, CA

We dispersed after the introductions to talk in groups of three, four, or more. It was organic, and attendees were encouraged to move to another group if they so desired. I see how attendees return over and over again. The hostesses and environment feel cozy and safe.

Thank you Death Café Santa Barbara and Center for Successful Aging for your hospitality!!!

I also attended an intimate Death Café in Santa Monica a few days prior to the Santa Barbara Café. It was hosted by a lovely woman at her office space. She is a psychologist, grief counselor. death doula, and drama therapist from Pasadena. There were five of us all together. The counselor led by asking why each came, and the other three participants, each in their 30’s, were off and running, lively and engaged from the start. Time went by quickly. This multi-talented lady also offers a Death Goes to the Movies night. Recently she screened a documentary about a psychiatrist/musician preparing for his green burial.

Both cafes in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica were unique, rewarding experiences. You may find the next dates for these Death Cafes or others near you at http://www.DeathCafe.com.  If you do not find one, perhaps you may have a desire to start one.

Please see the following links for articles about two of the cafes in Ajijic if you are interested – how we organized, and how attendees shared experiences at the end.

https://wellnessshepherd.com/2018/02/25/death-cafe-ajijic-mexico-ex-pats-and-snowbirds-talk-gently-about-mortality/

https://wellnessshepherd.com/2018/08/12/the-death-positive-movement-is-alive-amongst-retiree-ex-pats-at-lake-chapala-mexico/

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Aging, Death and Dying, End-of-Life Care, End-of-Life Planning, Health & Wellness, Living Abroad, Mexico, Retirement

Death Café Ajijic, Mexico; Ex-Pats and Snowbirds Talk Gently about Mortality

A group of American, Canadian, and UK ex-pats and “snowbirds” recently gathered for the first Death Café Ajijic, Mexico. There were 18 persons present at Café El Grano including an anesthesiologist, a hospice nurse, a hospice social worker, a psychiatrist, teachers, and others. There were two facilitators who work with end-of-life planning and transitions.

If the term Death Café (excuse the direct wording, I prefer Sacred Conversation) is new to you, you may hear it more and more.  Death Cafes or Café Mortels began with Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz who held over 100 such meetings in his native country until recently. In 2011, Jon Underwood, inspired by Crettaz, created Death Cafes in England (see history at http://deathcafe.com/what/  ).

These all-volunteer social events to discuss death and dying respectfully and informally (no agenda) are now held in 52 countries including Australia, Europe, Canada, the U.S., and parts of Latin America where death has sometimes, but not always, been a foreboding and scary subject.  Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim countries, and places with indigenous populations tend to consider death a natural part of life and honor it as such more easily. Most café organizers work with end-of-life, and tend to focus on alternative, kinder, spiritual ways of departing. Note: There is a Death Café in Singapore.

“At a Death Café… our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives,” states the Café web site. Most of all, the Café encourages an exchange of stories and perspectives as a way to embrace death.

What prompted a Death Café in Ajijic?

First, a number of retired ex-pats and visitors die in Mexico unexpectedly, and, they die without a health care directive and/or an end-of-life plan. There is a need for continued conversation and education.

Second, Loretta Downs, MA, has been speaking to locals at a popular venue, Open Circle (as well as at In the Heart of Awareness, the Buddhist center), about end-of-life for several years.  She flies in from Chicago every January to deliver her talks. About 300 + persons show up to listen as she encourages her audiences to become friendly with the idea of mortality and to prepare for it – think about it, and express to others what you want.  See http://www.endoflifeinspirations.com.

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Wendy Jane Carrel and Loretta Downs, End-of-Life Guides, Planners, and Educators; Co-Hosts of Death Cafe Ajijic 2018

Third, yours truly, Wendy Jane Carrel, MA, has been speaking to ex-pats around Ecuador for three years and subsequently in Mexico with the same passionate message – make friends with your demise, please make a plan.

It seemed natural for Loretta and I to team up to host a Café for Lake Chapala.

My interests had been reinforced as a result of volunteering two years at Juntos Contra el Dolor, the only 24/7 palliative care hospital and hospice in the state of Jalisco, a model for Mexico. I was given the gift of observing how painful chronic and terminal illnesses are treated, the politics of medicine, the politics of opioids, cultural difficulties related to dying, family constellations, and the difficulties of running a non-profit in a rich country (yes, rich in many resources) with little tradition of philanthropy. Most of all, I learned the concept of a “good death” requires much education and outreach in Mexico as well as at home.

Loretta’s friend Nancy Gershman, who produces Death Café NYC, gave us welcome pointers before the Ajijic meeting. We followed Nancy’s advice – small tables of 3-4 for intimate conversation, one of us (Loretta) to circulate and ensure participant exchanges were flowing, see that anyone who was recently grieving the loss of a loved one was comfortable, followed-up by an evaluation to learn what we could do better the next time.  https://www.meetup.com/Death-Cafe-New-York-City/

Cafe El Grano, nice partitions for intimate conversation
Cafe El Grano, Ajijic, Mexico – nice partitions and small tables for intimate conversation – also a most accommodating owner 😉

Because Loretta and I travel often, she is based in Chicago, and I in LA, we may not be producing other cafes until January 2019 unless another healthcare worker can pick-up in our absence.

Note: If you have not heard of Ajijic, it’s a sleepy Lake Chapala village, with a population of around 10,000, an hour south of Guadalajara. It is a popular tourist destination. Lake Chapala is home to around 20,000 full-time retirees from north-of-the border.

The DeathCafe.com web site indicates there are 9 death cafes in Mexico. I could only find one. It is located in Mexico City. See http://deathcafe.com/deathcafe/1695/ .

I have so much more to learn. I am now eager to return home to attend hospice social worker and end-of-life guide Betsy Trapasso’s Death Café LA https://www.facebook.com/deathcafelosangeles/   or Maggie Yenoki’s gathering in Pasadena https://www.facebook.com/deathcafepasadena/

References

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/01/12/what-happens-at-a-death-cafe/   excellent overview of a Death Café gathering in Sonoma, California by Shepherd Bliss

https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2017/mar/09/death-cafe-learn-talk-dying-patients

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/07/10/the-founder-of-death-cafe-has-died-but-his-movement-to-accept-the-inevitable-end-of-life-will-live-on/

https://www.facebook.com/DEATH-Cafe-Singapore-402018853254286/  a unique look at what Death Café Singapore is paying attention to

https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/take-me-to-the-death-cafe