Morgan Laffert is no stranger to death.
As service coordinator at Hospice of Homer, she sees it up close more often than most. Laffert has held the position since May of this year, and she’s now found a way to bring death out of the hospital setting and into the community — in a good way.
Laffert described interviewing a new volunteer for Hospice of Homer. The woman talked about her experience with something called Death Cafe, an international movement that aims to provide safe, open spaces for people to gather and talk about that inevitable, universal last step that each of us makes. As Laffert pointed out: “Once we are born, we start dying.”
Founded in 2011 by United Kingdom resident Jon Underwood, the Death Cafe is a causal gathering, usually at a coffee shop or some similar setting, where people can enjoy refreshments and open dialogue about death. It is not a grief or bereavement group.
The only objective of the movement, according to its website, is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”
Laffert said changing the stigma and taboo around the topic of death is a goal of the local iteration of Death Cafe.
When Laffert heard about it, she knew Homer needed a Death Cafe of its own. The very first event was held at Stowaway Cafe on East End Road on Aug. 20. Death Cafe is a self-described social franchise, in that anyone can host an official Death Cafe event as long as they prescribe to the guide and principals set forth by its founders.
“They really make it easy in the way that people can do this anywhere,” Laffert said. “It’s very basic. … As long as you have that interest in facilitating and holding that space, it really is an easy thing to do.”
Laffert said she combined powers with the hospice volunteer who brought Death Cafe to her attention to host the event. She hopes to host it continually going forward.
“I looked into it and was like, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s get this going,’” Laffert said.
Asked why she felt Homer needed its own space to talk about death and dying, Laffert spoke about the area’s openness to talking about difficult topics.
“Homer is such an amazing place to have this conversation,” she said. “I think we already have these (conversations) … but it’s nice to have a formalized process to talk about it. … I feel Homer is open to just have discussions. Homer … is just an amazing place for people of all experiences to come together and talk.”
While death is not always talked about openly and freely, Laffert said she thinks people want to be able to do that.
“People want to have a place to have that conversation,” she said. “This is something that is due.”
Laffert recalled one of her own experiences with death to highlight how important bringing it out of the proverbial darkness is.
“I remember talking with my dad about this,” Laffert said. “My dad was sick and he was thinking about planning his funeral and planning his mortality.”
Laffert recalls asking her father not to talk about it. She told him everything would be fine. This was before she started working in hospice services.
“It really opens your eyes on how to live a good life,” she said.
Hospice has made Laffert realize how vital having those conversations are, even if they make one uncomfortable.
“Death used to be the scariest thing,” she said. “Now the scariest thing is not living my life to the fullest potential.”
Now that Death Cafe has found a home in Homer, Laffert said she hopes the community can benefit from it. She said it’s important for people to know there’s no agenda associated with the events. It’s just a space where people can feel safe to have discussions about death and ask questions without fear of judgement.
Oh, and there’s usually cake, too.
To learn more about Death Cafe, visit deathcafe.com.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.