When you hear about a group called Death Café meeting in a funeral home, you may not think it would be a lively group. But, according to the founder of the Death Café of Whatcom County, Sandy Stork, these meetings are anything but morbid. “You should hear the laughter,” says Stork, 74. “We have so much fun.”
Death Café was founded in London in 2011. It has since spread across Europe, Australia, and North America. The Death Café of Whatcom County began five years ago, meeting every third Thursday in Moles Funeral Home in Bellingham.
“Our goal is to open our hearts and minds, and share our thoughts, feelings, and fears about death and dying,” Stork says.
Stork said we live in “a death-denying culture” not conducive to these types of discussions. The purpose of Death Café is to create a safe, compassionate space where people can delve into this topic without judgement or religious proselytization.
Dale McKechnie has been attending Whatcom County Death Café meetings since they began. “There is much misunderstanding about the whole process and purpose of death,” McKechnie says. “It is often seen as the end of life and therefore a thing to be feared.”
During the meetings, attendees split into small groups and are given discussion topics. Usually, there are two major areas of discussion, Stork says. They will either end up discussing metaphysical aspects of death, pondering profound questions of what happens after death. Or they will look practically at how to prepare for death, like how to fill out an advance directive form, which outlines medical wishes in a case where an individual is unable to communicate.
Stork has been around death for most of her life, as she worked with elderly populations as a geriatric mental health specialist for many years. She said the book “Being Mortal” is like her bible.