Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Spring 2014 Sneak Peak 2

One of the hardest topics to think about, much less talk about, is death. How do we as humans cope with our mortality and share that with others? For many locations across the world, people are being given a new setting to do just that. In March 2013, the organization formally known as Death Café Atlanta had its first meeting in the bell tower at Oakland Cemetery. Kate Sweeney, reporter for 90.1 WABE, shares their story:
“No grim subject is off-the-table at Death Café Atlanta’s free monthly meetings, which are open to the public, though attendance is limited. If this seems weird, think about how we usually approach end-of life issues […] Put simply, we don’t. Not until we’re forced to, say, when someone close to us dies. At least, that’s what you hear from most professionals dealing in death […] The goal is to create a fun and freewheeling atmosphere, so that it’s easier to talk about things like…well, like planning one’s own funeral.”
However, to help with the mood, it’s a requirement that all Death Café meetings have cake and sometimes the meetings end in a cheerful song. The intent is to foster a fun and open atmosphere for participants to open up and talk about the uncomfortable and frightening issue that is death. This allows people to discuss a host of topics including but not limited to childhood recollections, funerals, superstitions, “Bucket” lists, legal issues, as well as fears. Popularity for Dead Café Atlanta is growing at a tremendous rate with attendance at capacity for most of the meetings thus far. For the entire article and the broadcast recording of the story, click here.

Alongside covering stories like these, Kate Sweeney is also a University of Georgia Press author. Her latest work, AMERICAN AFTERLIFE, is scheduled for publication in March 2014. AMERICAN AFTERLIFE fits in a tradition of books going back to Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death and including more recent successes such as Mary Roach's Stiff and Thomas Lynch's The Undertaking, but Sweeney's temperament and reporting ability lead her largely outside the traditional funeral business and give her work a unique angle on understanding the actions we take and the objects we create in the face of grief.

AMERICAN AFTERLIFE reveals this world through a collective portrait of Americans past and present who find themselves personally involved with death: a klatch of obit writers in the desert, a funeral voyage on the Atlantic, a fourth-generation funeral director—even a Midwestern museum that takes us back in time to meet our death-obsessed Victorian progenitors. Each story illuminates details in another until something larger is revealed: a landscape that feels at once strange and familiar, one that’s by turns, odd, tragic, poignant, and sometimes even funny.

Someone dies. What happens next depends upon our personal stories when it comes to death and on where those stories fall in a larger tale—that of death in America. It’s a powerful tale. And yet it’s usually hidden from our everyday lives until it happens to us.

Peter Trachtenberg, author of Another Insane Devotion, shares his perception of Sweeney’s collection, “At a brisk pace, but with frequent stops to relish the magnificent oddities of the terrain, Kate Sweeney guides readers down the lanes and boulevards of the American way of death. As we look into the grave, she looks at us, with an unflinching gaze that would be the envy of Jessica Mitford. Revelatory and—dare I say it?—terrifically entertaining.”

The book’s publication date is March 15, 2014, so mark it on your calendars. In the meantime, visit Sweeney’s website for updated and announcements. Also, to learn more about Death Café in Atlanta visit their Facebook page.