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July 14, 2017

Longwood University’s First Death Cafe

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This past spring on March 28, 2017, Longwood University played host to the first death café in Farmville. The event was organized by Dr. Maureen Walls-McKay, Dr. Kat McCleskey, and the counselor education Grief, Loss, and Trauma class. Death Cafés were originated by Jon Underwood in 2010 when he wanted to host a series on death and came across the work of Bernard Crettaz. Underwood took his inspiration from the writing of Crettaz and modeled the Death Café after his ideas, hosting the very first one at his East London house in 2011. Sue Barsky Reid, a psychotherapist and Underwood’s mother, served as the facilitator for the pilot event. From there on, the two worked together to write and publish a guide for hosting and running these events all over the world.

The goal of the death café hosted here was to provide a relaxing environment in which members of the community could come and discuss their opinions, views, and experiences with death. The counselor education students and faculty felt this was an important opportunity because death is something we all experience but typically do not get the chance to openly discuss or process. Attendees of the event were provided with light refreshments, given some history of the death café, and were broken into small groups, each led by a student of the Grief, Loss, and Trauma class. Each group was provided with a list of questions to help facilitate discussion, however, the environment encouraged members to take the conversation where they felt was needed and appropriate. The Grief, Loss, and Trauma class prepares graduate level students aiming to work in the counseling field to openly discuss these tough experiences with clients. Having this forum to practice facilitating these difficult discussions not only provided a learning experience to the students but also gave them a chance for reflection, insight, and to increase their own comfortability with death. Walls-McKay and McCleskey have already indicated that they would love to host the event again next year so those whose missed out, be on the lookout for the next time this unique event comes to campus.

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