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Denver Death Cafe launches at Wystone's this weekend

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To understand what a Death Cafe is, you need to know what a Death Cafe isn't. It's not a grief-support group for those who have lost loved ones. It's not a morbid event where people draped in black talk about the meaningless void that death symbolizes for some. And it's definitely not a religious event of any kind.

"I try to tell people when they call to RSVP that it is not morbid or gloomy, it is not sad, it is not a workshop of any kind, and we don't try to lead the participants into any form of ideology or anything," says organizer Anita Larson.

So then, what is a Death Cafe?

See also: Letter from Alice Toklas on the death of Gertrude Stein

Jon Underwood started Death Cafes in the United Kingdom in 2011 to create a safe space for people to talk about death while enjoying one of the pleasures of life -- delicious cake and tea. "He started these based on the work of Bernard Crettaz, a sociologist," explains Larson. "He felt that it was healthy to talk about death and bring it out of the closet. He started this, just on a whim kind of, and he was surprised at the amount of interest. And then he kept doing them.

"It's always free and open to the community, no selling of any kind," she adds. "He wants it to be a safe place, and the way he described it was, it's 'life-affirming.' It's healthy to speak about death rather than not talk about it."

Larson discovered the cafes through through the Celebrant Institute. "Jon Underwood had a big teleconference with all the Celebrants on the line, explaining about the Death Cafe," she says. "And I kept thinking someone in Denver would start one of these, and no one did. So I drove to Taos, New Mexico, to go to their Death Cafe, because I wanted to attend one in person before I started one here. And it was fabulous; it was really beyond anything I thought it would be."

The topics of conversation at the Death Cafes range from death planning to assisted suicide to hospice to experiences that different attendees have had surrounding death, she notes. Groups too large for easy conversations are typically split into smaller units of three to four people for discussion after an introductory talk, and attendees often come away feeling more alive than ever before. In fact, the most common phrase used to describe Death Cafes is "life-affirming."

The first Denver Death Cafe will take place at Wystone's World Teas, 7323 West Alaska Drive in Lakewood, on Sunday, September 8, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. It's free and open to the public, but since space is limited, Larson is asking people to RSVP by calling 303-489-5001 or e-mailing denverdeathcafe@gmail.com. Larson hopes to host the cafes once a month after this initial gathering, although not always at Wystone's. In the meantime, to learn more about Death Cafes, go to www.deathcafe.com.

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