NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – Let’s be honest – most people are uncomfortable talking about death.
“It’s going to happen to everybody. It’s only a matter of when,” says Tim Baxter, director of operations at the Oakwood Cemetery on Portage Road.
“We’re scared of it. We don’t know much about it,” said Michelle Kratts, who along with Baxter organize and facilitate Niagara’s version of a Death Café.
People from all walks gathered inside the former caretaker’s house on the cemetery grounds, the final resting place for some 20,000 souls.
On this warm July night, it’s where the living come to talk about dying.
“I’m probably at the lowest point right now,” said one of the attendees.
After a short introduction, the conversation begins.
“You might learn the value of life when you see somebody struggling to try to live,” adds another participant.
Coffee brews in the kitchen area as pastries are plated in advance of a natural break in the discussion.
And that’s precisely what the original founders of Death Café had intended.
“Those emotions are going to start surfacing and sometimes that’s the scary part,” said another attendee.
The first Death Café was held in England in September 2011. According to the website DeathCafe.com, the model has spread across Europe, North America and Australia.
Death is certainly a topic that has seen its share of darkness. Death Café activists are trying to change that.
“If you talk about death you will become more appreciative of life,” Baxter says. “It really could be called life café . But death café kind of catches people’s attention.”
Death Café facilitator Michelle Kratts, a librarian and historian, thinks death has been “sanitized and hidden” from life.
“I think what I’ve learned is that death just like life is a beautiful thing. It’s human. And it’s okay,” she says.
People have questions. What happens when I die? Where will I go? How will loved ones cope without me?
“I would like to be able to talk about death not only with people who are dying , but with my family so that they won’t undergo the grief or the sadness,” added one participant.
Still, death is not an easy topic. For many people just the thought of it produces anxiety and fear.
“People are not born into this world knowing how to die or understanding how to care for someone who’s dying,” said University at Buffalo Professor Deborah Waldrop, an expert in aging and end of life care.
Waldrop says people sometimes struggle with the meaning of their own life.
“Realizing that you’re reaching the end of life and saying , thinking to yourself, how does my life matter. Does what I’ve done make a difference in people’s lives. Sort of seeing yourself in the context of the bigger picture,” she says.
One thing is certain. Death is inevitable.
But there are nagging questions even for Tim Baxter, whose job of overseeing a cemetery is a constant reminder of what awaits all of us.
“What happens to you after you die? I don’t know. I really don’t,” Baxter said.