Ryan BiracreeOn Sunday (July 23), at 3 p.m., Ryan Biracree will host a death cafe at the Desmond-Fish Public Library in Garrison, where he oversees digital services.

What is a death cafe?
The goal is for it to be an open and welcoming space to talk about any issues related to death. There’s no agenda. We could find ourselves discussing grief: how to mourn and how not to mourn. Or the conversation could gravitate toward the business of death and dying, which can include anything from how to make a will to feelings about our own mortality. It’s not a support group or therapy.

How did you become involved?
I’ve always had conversations with friends and family about death and dying. My degrees are in poetry and I taught literature for many years. Though I haven’t done formal training, which is available, there are no set requirements for a death cafe except that there is no advertising. It’s an open discussion and there will be snacks! Tea and cake! I worked on “death doula” training, which helped me formulate how to talk about death and accept any discomfort there might be. In many ways, death has been removed from the home: Bodies get taken away, embalmed, it’s an industry. It’s developing an appreciation for the multiplicity of ways we are present with death. I will help guide people through topics, beginning with a question-focused approach, centered around the notion of “What have you always wanted to say but worry that people will think you’re strange?” It’s open to everybody, all ages. There’s no pressure to contribute. The most critical component is listening without expectation or judgment.

What does a death doula do?
Some focus on working with the individual who is dying to take care of the logistics of death, the practical side of things. Others take on a more holistic level, like coming to terms with dying, asking oneself, “How can I leave? How can we feel we’ve said everything we want?” Others work with families, helping them handle grief, or they provide day-to-day help during the process.

Is this a new program for the library?
It’s the first at Desmond-Fish, but there have been thousands of them worldwide since the first in 2004. When you run a death cafe, there’s no fee, no organizational framework, just an upholding of the principles. We’re hosting it on a Sunday when the library is closed; we’re opening up exclusively for this program. It’s the first one we’ve done. I hope there’ll be more, perhaps monthly.

Do you think the program is particularly resonant now?
We’re coming out of a pandemic where for two or three years we were inundated with a consciousness of death but also prevented from experiencing it firsthand. So many people were prevented from mourning with others. We’re coming out of a period where grief and mourning were robbed from many people at the same time, that we culturally experienced a mass death. We need to be with others and talk about this.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Rooney has been writing for The Current since its founding in 2010. A playwright, she has lived in Cold Spring since 1999. She is a graduate of Binghamton University, where she majored in history. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: Arts