ROCKY RIVER -- There are groups and gatherings for just about every interest these days. But a new kind of meetup is gaining attention for the way it's tackling an uncomfortable topic.
The concept of death cafés has come to Northeast Ohio.
"When you hear about death café, it sounds kind of morbid. It sounds kind of scary. But the reality is, these are positive events," Mike Belsito explains.
Belsito is the co-founder of eFuneral, an end-of-life planning website. Death cafés started in Europe and have made their way across the Atlantic to the United States.
The purpose is to make people comfortable enough to open up about the subject of death. And there is coffee and cake too.
The first death café in Cleveland attracted 26 people. The numbers have grown steadily since then.
Roughly about two hours in length, a host may start the discussion by throwing out questions about death: How do you want to die? Surrounded by loved ones in your home? In a hospital? How do you want to be remembered?
Attendees break up into small groups of five or six to talk about their personal experiences.
"We are very clued into living and living as long as we can, but eventually we come to a decision that we are not going to live forever. When we come to that realization, we want to have a discussion," explains Shelly Barnard, a licensed social worker who has attended several death cafés.
The casual get-togethers are held in coffee shops, restaurants and even homes. In other cities, death cafés have even been held in cemeteries.
Cafés are hosted by social workers and chaplains, though all beliefs and nonbelievers are embraced.
"One of the beauties about death café is that it's open to absolutely everybody. We don't segment this and only welcome certain people. Anybody can come to a death café, and the purpose is that it's an open and accepting environment for people to have real conversations about end of life," according to Belsito.
"It's not grief support. It's an open frank discussion about death," Marcella Boyd Cox said. Cox is director of the Boyd and Son funeral homes. She went to her first death café in June.
Cafés don't allow sales pitches. But directors like Cox are more than welcome to join in the discussion and answer questions about their business.
Cox sees benefits to facing your own mortality sooner, rather than later. She whole-heartedly welcomes the movement.
"If you deal with your own mortality, I think it sets you free to go on and live your life."
Death cafés are free. They are not a grief support group.
If you would like to learn more about the next Death Café scheduled in October, events are posted on a Cleveland Death Cafe Facebook page as well as the eFuneral website.