Let’s start talking about death.Amy talking with people who came to the Death Cafe

That was the motivation for the first “death cafe” held recently in Duluth by estate attorney Amy Kuronen.

Participants laughed. They cried. They shared stories of loved ones who had died—and what they described as their families’ mistakes handling death. They expressed a commitment to do better when their families experience death—including planning for when they die

“Death is a part of life. We all experience it,” Kuronen said. “It’s time we quit treating it as taboo and instead embraced it. When we do that, we can handle it better, from an emotional standpoint as well as a legal standpoint. Talking about death before it happens ensures that our families can carry out our wishes and gets everyone on the same page well in advance.”

Death cafes are popping up all over the country, as a new generation expresses greater comfort talking about death. The roughly hourlong events—often around a meal, coffee or drinks, just like at a cafe—makes a social event out of a topic that, for many, has only carried social strictures.

At Kuronen’s death cafe, attendees delved into all aspects of end-of-life planning, guided her expertise. From discussing the importance of having a health-care directive in place to navigating talking to adult children about death and wishes, the topics were diverse and informative.

One discussion revolved around the revelation that planning for one’s death is not only a gift to oneself but also to loved ones left behind. Participants explored the practicalities of estate planning and the emotional benefits of ensuring that their wishes are known and respected.

Attendees also discussed how parents and caregivers can communicate with children about death. One woman said she felt unprepared because her family shielded children from discussions of death and even kept them from attending funerals.

Finally, participants learned about physician orders for life-sustaining treatment, often referred to as POLSTs, and traditional health-care directives. Both help families guide medical care for seriously ill relatives, especially at the end of life. But they are not necessarily replacements for one another.

Perhaps surprising to some attending the death cafe, people talked. It was a chance to open up, even if that meant sharing vulnerabilities. Kuronen’s expertise and personal approach helped attendees feel comfortable.

Kuronen plans to host a second event, “Open Discussion about Death: Join the Duluth Death Cafe,” at 5:30 p.m. March 19 in the Kitchi Gammi Club, 831 E. Superior St., Duluth. The event is free, but Kuronen asks those interested to please RSVP so she has a head count for cake and other refreshments.

Those interested can find more information about people becoming more accepting of death, often called the death-positive generation or the death-positive movement. The Minnesota Death Collaborative also supports open conversations about death and planning for it. In addition, anyone with questions is welcome to contact Kuronen.