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Coffee and Coffins: Local Business Owners Launch Death Café Meetings

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Jessica Sheridan, left, and Beatrice Kern recently started a monthly meetup of Death Café in Peekskill, a group that discusses the often-difficult issues related to end of life, all over coffee and refreshments. 
By Em Stangarone

Beatrice Kern and Jessica Sheridan want to help people live fuller lives by talking about death over coffee, tea and cookies.

Their new monthly meetup is called Death Café, where local residents can have casual conversations about all issues related to the end of life in a safe, supportive environment while enjoying refreshments from Peekskill Coffee House.

“This group is for any and all people who want to talk about death to any capacity,” said Kern, who leads the group with Sheridan. “Whether they want to express fears of the unknown relating to death, talk to others who may have a terminally ill loved one or be terminally ill themselves, or perhaps are just having a lot of anxiety and want some existential questions answered.”

The Death Cafe is held at The Little Wolf Tattoo Collective’s new studio space in The Hat Factory in downtown Peekskill. The next meeting will be on Friday, July 8 from 6 to 7 p.m.

Death Cafe meetups are confidential, respectful and free of charge, with no agendas or judgments. It is not a support group or grief counseling, Kern and Sheridan noted, but rather a group that gives people, often strangers, the space they need to open up about one of life’s most difficult topics.

Death Cafe is a “social franchise” and nonprofit founded in London in 2011. Since then, over 14,000 Death Cafe groups have sprung up in more than 80 countries around the world.

Kern and Sheridan were inspired to start a local Death Cafe after seeing a lack of options for folks seeking connection and support in the face of death. They believe there’s never been a more important time for it than in the wake of a global pandemic.

Kern, the owner of The Little Wolf Collective, has been tattooing in the Hudson Valley for 13 years, and is now a certified death doula. She was drawn to it following the passing of a close friend during the pandemic.

Sheridan, a lifelong Westchester resident, is a clinically-trained aromatherapist and reiki practitioner working out of Little Wolf. She began training as an end-of-life doula after working locally with hospice patients.

As death doulas, Kern and Sheridan said their work is to empower people to die with dignity.

“Many people do not know how to properly advocate for themselves at the end of life,” Sheridan said. “We believe that normalizing conversation around death helps people to speak up for themselves when it really matters the most.”

Their hope is that participants will leave a Death Cafe meetup more prepared to have these difficult conversations with family and friends, alleviating some of the pain and fear that come with death as a result of not talking about it.

“Deathcare is community care,” Sheridan explained. “Showing up for each other is really so much of what this work is about.”

The duo’s first Death Cafe meetup earlier in June was a trial run, a small gathering of about five participants, they said. By the end of the meeting the room felt lighter.

“Once we all sat down and grabbed some coffee, the conversation became effortless,” Kern said. “It turned out everyone had quite a lot on their minds.”

“It was interesting and made me really think,” said participant who wishes to remain anonymous. “(Death is) not a subject that you just talk about with your family. A lot of people don’t ever talk about it with their families.”

Kern and Sheridan are hoping for about five to 15 participants for each meetup going forward.

The Little Wolf Collective started two years ago as a private tattoo studio and has grown to include a variety of health and wellness offerings. This includes an in-house healer, yoga instructor, reiki and aromatherapy as well as regular gatherings and workshops such as basketry weaving.

The collective hopes to continue expanding its services to the community in its new Peekskill location.

Those wishing to learn more about the Death Cafe and upcoming meetups may visit www.thelittlewolfcollective.com. The Little Wolf Tattoo Collective is located at 1000 N. Division St., Suite 2A, in Peekskill. Participants are encouraged to reach out through the website or on Instagram (@deathcafe.littlewolf) before attending meetings. Based on demand, Kern and Sheridan plan to also offer virtual Death Cafe meetups in the future.

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