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The rise of the death cafe

CREATED Sep 20, 2013 - UPDATED: Sep 20, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - Drinks, cookies, and conversation - about dying.  It's called a Death Café, and the focus is the end of life.

Jane Hughes Gignoux is a death café host.  She explains, "Some of them are in public cafes, some of them are in people's homes."

People of all ages and backgrounds are taking part, with meetups popping up in cities across the country and even online where anyone, anywhere, can join the conversation.

"Some people come with questions.  Some people come with things they want to share.  Some people come with, with anxieties," Jane suggests.

Participants describe them as informal gatherings of people who share a common interest.

Claire Kinnen says, "I want to just open up my mind a little bit and become a little bit more comfortable talking about death."

Sam Tomasello adds, "Some of these conversations are not things that I could have every day with any of my friends, and so I just really relish these opportunities to just get it all out there."

Dr. Phyllis Kosminsky is a fellow with the Association for Death Education and Counseling and author of 'Getting Back To Life When Grief Won't Heal.'  She believes the popularity of death cafes demonstrates a need for this type of conversation.  "It's a comfort to be able to share your concerns, your fears, your feelings about something that's so much a part of all of our lives."

She specializes in coping with death, and considers the trend healthy, and not morbid.

"Talking about death is helpful and, and potentially life-enriching because it brings our attention to what we value in life," Dr. Kosminsky explains.

These meetings are not for everyone though.  They're not counseling sessions or support groups.  Jane warns, "Somebody who is in deep grief, who might just recently, very recently, suffered a loss of a love one, probably might find it difficult."

Jane, who says the only rule at her death cafes is that everyone is respectful of one another, is glad the topic is up for discussion.  "It's very, for me, very heartening to see that people are curious and want to explore areas that they've never explored before."

These meetups are not designed for people with depression or mental health issues, or those who might become obsessed with death.  The American Psychological Association maintains people dealing with those things should seek help through specially trained professionals.