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Death cafe set for Saturday

The loss of a loved one — or thinking about death — can feel isolating to many.

Kathleen “Kat” McCleskey

An event Saturday seeks to provide a safe and unifying place where people can discuss issues relating to death in the Farmville community.

The event, called Death Cafe, will take place at 2 p.m. at the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts (LCVA).

The Death Cafe program is hosted by communities throughout the U.S. and internationally.

The program, according to the Death Cafe website, involves “a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session.”

The Death Cafe event first started at Longwood last year. This year, it will extend to the Town of Farmville through a partnership between Centra Health and Longwood University.

Kathleen “Kat” McCleskey, assistant professor and program co-coordinator for Counselor Education at Longwood, said she first attended a Death Cafe program in Charlottesville.

“I really enjoyed it and found it very meaningful,” McCleskey said. “After attending one, I wanted to bring that experience to Longwood University and the Farmville community.”

Dr. Maureen Walls-McKay, director of Longwood’s Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), said McCleskey approached her about the idea of hosting a Death Cafe event in Farmville.

“After the success of the inaugural Death Cafe at Longwood University in Spring 2017, we decided to open the experience to the Farmville community,” Walls-McKay said. “The event will take place at a downtown location — in the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts — and is free and open to all.”

“(The Rev.) Elaine Tola from Centra Hospice joined us to plan and host the Death Cafe,” McCleskey said. “Having this one take place at the LCVA puts it in the common area shared by Longwood University and the town of Farmville.”

Tola, chaplain with Centra Southside Community Hospital, said Walls-McKay approached her about the event, and she agreed it could benefit the Farmville community.

“I was excited to be a part of the event,” Tola said. “I brought this up with Centra Hospice leadership, and we welcomed the opportunity to partner with Longwood in offering this opportunity to the community.”

McCleskey said while the program is not necessarily tightly structured or designed to answer questions about death, she said conversations tend to flow naturally.

“Each table has a facilitator who will have some questions that can be asked to start discussions, but sometimes, people at a table start talking, and the discussion naturally flows the entire time,” McCleskey said.

“This, actually, is the beauty of the Death Cafe,” Walls-McKay said about the relaxed structure of the event. “There is no predetermined agenda. People are free to share and discuss what they wish.”

Tola said she hopes the event will create a sense of community where people can feel less alone, particularly in discussing death.

“I hope this opportunity will open a path to normalizing conversation around death — our own and of those we love,” Tola said.