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Post COVID-19, Halifax locals deal with increased fear of death at Death Cafe

Death Cafe tries to normalize death through discussion

Death Cafe at the Halifax Central Library is a safe space for people to discuss death and provides an open environment for those grieving, especially since COVID-19.

“During COVID the fear of death and literal death became more immediate,” said Deborah Luscomb.

Luscomb is one of the main facilitators of Death Cafe hosted by Death Matters, which takes place every third Thursday of the month. At Death Cafe, all are welcome to join in the conversation on topics surrounding death and grief, or just observe.

COVID-19 impact

Almost seven million deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 since its outbreak, according to the World Health Organization. Death Cafe aims to normalize talking about death and help people feel less afraid of it, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

Death Cafe began in March 2015 and moved to Zoom during COVID-19, but started in person again in May 2023. 

“The goal is to be able to talk about [death]. Make it not so scary and taboo,” Luscomb said. “After COVID there were a lot of new people and a larger participation over Zoom.”

What happens in a meeting?

Everyone begins these conversations by introducing themselves. Then questions such as, “If you were going to a funeral that had a potluck reception what dish would you bring?” or “What’s your first memory of death as a child?” are asked by the mediator.

A few moments of silence are also common 

“Silence is essential, we spend a great deal of time avoiding ourselves every moment of life,” said David Maginley. 

Maginley is a chaplain in palliative and cancer care at the Victoria General Hospital and a spiritual therapist. He works with many people on their deathbeds. Maginley has spoken at Death Cafe before and encourages people to discuss it to become comfortable with it. 

“We suppress what we give power to,” said Maginley. “If you suppress your death anxiety, you’re only going to feed it.”

He explained that COVID-19 has made the fear of death worse for a lot of people.

“Death is scary because of how it’s presented to us in the media and because we don’t talk about it, so it becomes a monster in the shadows,” Maginley said. “COVID made the monster bigger, but we haven’t changed our behaviour or attitude about death.”

A goal of Death Cafe is to discuss death to normalize it as inevitable. 

“When you can make friends with death, you love more deeply, live well, tune into your priorities and preserve your energy. You know what’s a waste and what’s life-giving. You run towards joy,” said Maginley.

Luscomb has found that Death Cafe is helpful for those who have a death phobia or are grieving. 

“Somebody always comes up and talks to me after about how appreciative they are. Always,” said Luscomb.

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