Death Cafe in Gambier: Discussing Death on the campus of Kenyon College

Where would you think most college students would be at 10:30 on a wintry Saturday morning in mid-February?

It’s highly unlikely that you would guess, a Death Café, but that’s exactly where nearly 20 students on the Kenyon College campus were yesterday morning. (And it wasn’t because it was a class requirement either. It was completely by choice).

Not only did these students come to take part in the first Death Café in the area, but they came with passion for participation. And participate they did: with tears, laughter, heartfelt sharing and insight. They were divided into 3 groups for more intimate discussion that also involved 7 “older” adults that were in attendance. As I sat in on each group I was struck by the maturity and poise with which these young adults approached the subject of death. It was heartwarming to see the age barriers dissolve between the generations as feelings, life experiences and insights were shared.

As I later sat down to read the evaluations submitted after the event, I was equally impressed and humbled by their comments. When asked, “What 3 words best describe your experience here today?” The amazing words shared were: meaningful, touching, fascinating, honest, liberating, fun, thoughtful, open, refreshing, frank, wide-ranging, enlightening, comforting, interesting, safe, personal, educational, more alive now, meditative, gratitude, calming, pensive, comfortable, illuminating, difficult, thought-provoking, moving, supportive, soul-connecting, holistic, openness, profound, unexpected, important, present.

I was moved beyond words by these responses, not because I took credit for their experience in any way (I didn’t), but because I was deeply touched by how they had stepped into the gathering and had created their own experience by taking a risk, not only showing up, but opening up- wholeheartedly- to the discussion surrounding death.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I set forth on this journey to offer a Death Cafe on a college campus in a small town. It was something I felt drawn to do. Nothing could have prepared me for what transpired in front of my eyes and the feelings it evoked from me: (to use some of the words above): touching, refreshing, comforting, gratitude, illuminating, moving and totally unexpected.

My faith in the possibilities of a future where death is a part of everyday conversation and a part of everyday life, was restored yesterday, thanks to nearly 20 Kenyon College students who chose to get out of bed early on a wintry morning to attend the inaugural Death Café in Gambier.

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