Niagara Gazette — Surrounded by tombstones and thousands of buried bodies, there was laughter coming from the Death Cafe.
As unlikely as that seems, the joyful sounds came from a group that gathers regularly to talk about all the issues related to death and dying, sharing cake, coffee and story-telling that results in both laughter and tears.
It’s anybody’s guess why they have so much fun at their meetings — which occur almost every month at Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls. But the atmosphere is so jovial that word has gotten out and each gathering attracts more people.
“It should be called Life Cafe, but Death Cafe is a catchier name,” joked Tim Baxter, director of the cemetery, which is home to the remains of some of the most interesting characters in the region’s history and which is loyally supported by many volunteers.
“Our meetings are the most happy, fun things you can imagine,” said Michelle Kratts, a Lewiston librarian and co-founder of the Niagara Death Cafe. She noted that the “cafe” in the title comes from idea that food is shared among guests.
“You have to have cake at these meetings,” she explained. “The idea started in England and that’s how they started it. They’d talk about death and have cake and tea.”
The Americanized version includes coffee, of course, but also a wide variety of other goodies, she said, remaining true to the original concept that sharing sweets lightens the mood.
The group meetings are more a discussion than a lecture. Kratts asks attendees to write their questions about death on a slip of paper and then she pulls the questions one by one to start the conversation. While there is no one actually designated as a main speaker, experts are invited to attend and share their opinions. Past meetings have included a coroner, a chaplain, a Buddhist, ghost busters and author Darcy Thiel, who wrote a book about losing her husband to cancer.