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Charlotte Area

Dying To Talk About Death

Sarah Delia

Kicking the bucket. Meeting your maker. The end of life. It’s the ultimate equalizer no one is dying to talk about.

But a movement which has reached Charlotte is trying to bring some life to a discussion most all of us try to avoid. 

In a cozy kitchen full of bright colors and retro furniture, Marilyn Morenz gets ready to facilitate a conversation that most of us dread. Morenz is an End of Life care consultant and former hospice nurse.

"We plan for birth of babies but we're not so great for planning for our death and for and expecting the death of those we love," Morenz says. 

She brews coffee and un-wraps sweets as people file in for Charlotte’s Death Cafe. A Death Cafe is a gathering of people who want to discuss end of life issues and philosophies. They meet every third Wednesday of the month at The Respite. 

One of the Death Cafe attendees is Wesley Sturgis. He's a bereavement counselor. Sturgis says he comes to the Death Cafe because he believes people should be more comfortable talking about death. But not everyone who attends is as zen as he is.

Sturgis turns to a woman on his right, Pat Godoy. She’s semi-retired and in her seventies. She’s been to almost every Death Cafe since it began in Charlotte in 2013. 

She says that because of a complicated relationship with her mother, who refused to talk about or acknowledge death, Godoy developed a paralyzing fear around end of life conversations.  

Charlotte’s Death Cafe  is part of a wider network. Death Cafes originated in the UK in 2011. Death Cafes around the world can register at deathcafe.com. The site lists Death Cafes in 29 countries including one in Gastonia.

Credit Sarah Delia
Getting coffee and snacks ready.

Lyndall Hare along with her colleague Jillian Tullis  brought the Death Cafe to Charlotte. Hare is a gerontologist—someone who studies the mental aspects of aging. Professional and personal experience drew her to the Death Cafe movement.

"My father committed suicide when I was 17-years old. Never having been able to speak about it, was such a huge loss on top of the loss on top of the tragedy. I sometimes think if we had a place to speak about death before his death, who knows?"

Hare has been successful in creating that place in Charlotte—it’s what keeps people like Pat Godoy coming back to the Death Cafe. She sees a big difference in how she views her mortality and her life. 

"Coming here is like a mantra. Like a reinforcement of acceptance of understanding  better death than I ever did before," said Godoy.

Steve Umberger is another Death Cafe attendee, currently working on a play loosely based on death. He points out the irony of end life conversations.

"We're talking about how closed our society is with the idea of death...when really it is just a step in life," said Umberger. 

After two hours of conversation facilitator Marilyn Morenz steps in to bring the discussion to a close.

They’ll gather again next month over coffee and sweets to talk about the one thing we all have in common and the toughest for most to acknowledge.