Explore Booksellers hosts Death Café, a discussion group about end-of-life

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to The Aspen Times
Lisa Kohlhepp will host a Death Café to encourage meaningful discussion about death, along with Aspen Psychedelics Resource Center, at Explore Booksellers on Thursday.
Courtesy photo

A decade ago, before Lisa Kohlhepp sat with two different people as they died, she somewhat feared dying. But after being present with each, her fear transformed into a curiosity. Now, she wants to help others become more comfortable with the subject — and with death itself.

On Thursday, she hosts a Death Café to encourage meaningful discussion about death, along with Aspen Psychedelics Resource Center, at Explore Booksellers.

It all begins with tea and cake, because, after all, life is short, and we’re still in bodies that enjoy food and drink. Then, the conversation turns toward the end of life.

Though the Death Café is not a grief support group or counseling session, Kohlhepp does support bereaved ones coming together and sharing their experiences.

“Even just to be heard and not trying to fix what’s wrong, just having a deep listening atmosphere could be soothing for our soul,” she said. “Right now in our world, we are coming into nearing the end of life for the Baby Boomer generation. For the first time in history, more people are on their way to the end of life than are being born.”

However, the main goal of the Death Café revolves around not grieving but, rather, increasing awareness around dying. She points out that mothers create a birthing plan, but few people talk about death. Yet, as humans, we share two commonalities: We’re all born, and we all die.

“Our time together may shed light and bring curiosity to this topic that is inevitable for all,” she said. “Perhaps talking about death will help us to make the most of the time that we have in this finite life. We can express what’s most important to us in our lives and enjoy living to our fullest potential.”

Though death can be a heavy topic, Kohlhepp describes herself as a joyful woman with a sincere interest in one of our most profound experiences: dying. She says she brings a calm, reassuring presence — a quiet strength — to people who are dying and to their families.

“I have surprised myself and my family by being all those things,” she said. “Numerous loved ones have chosen me to be with them at their last breath. Even though multiple people came in and out, (they seem to) feel comfortable to die with me.”

She believes we can only take people as far as we are open to exploring, and she has been very open. She doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she listens well. She assures dying people and their family and friends that it’s okay to be scared and empowers them to make choices regarding ways they might want to honor their life — for instance, through a celebration of life before their death or writing their obituary — as well as the setting they want to face the end of life in, from the visual space to sounds to people.

She educates the dying and loved ones about signs of active dying, discusses beliefs they hold about death, and offers other caring services, such as cooking and Reiki.

“The majority of people view death as fearful, and with great sadness, as I have, but dying is part of life. It seems like in our culture, we’ve separated it so much and been so scared of it,” she said. “Just starting the conversation — that it is a human experience — may transform the way we look at it and bring courage to any unknowing.”

She points out that in other cultures, like Indonesia, funerals are one of the greatest celebrations.

“For me, facing death and dying and having conversations helps my capacity for living and helps us identify what’s really important for us,” she said, adding, “The way we die can be a great gift to people in our own life to see the way we are accepting it or getting our affairs in order.”

Kohlhepp is a certified end-of-life doula through the International End-of-Life Doula Association.  

If you go…

What: Death Café Discussion Group
When: 4 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 21
Where: Explore Booksellers, 221 E. Main St., Aspen
Cost: Free
More info:

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