Deborah Luscombe

Deborah Luscomb is the founder of the Death Cafe in Halifax. (Marvin Moore)

Halifax is the latest city to host a death café, a gathering where people can talk about what for many is a taboo subject. 

The idea started in England half a dozen years ago, when people came together in a coffee shop to talk about
preparing for the end of life. Montreal has one and they are popular in Europe.

Deborah Luscomb has chosen Trident Cafe in downtown Halifax to host a free, open forum on the first Tuesday afternoon of each month starting at 3:30 p.m.

"I like the eating and drinking part; it loosens people up and makes it more social," Luscomb says. "My goal is to encourage the conversation around death to come out of the closet. It's an event we all share, inevitably. I think there's fear. It's just been a taboo subject."

Luscomb is a fabric artist, a former midwife, and a Buddhist. She believes by understanding and embracing death, it's easier for people to find meaning in life.

She visited a death café in Boulder, Colorado, a couple of years ago before starting one in Halifax last month. It's open to people of all religions and walks of life. She says philosophical and practical issues surfaced during the first coffee, with about a dozen participants between the ages of 32 and 72.

"A lot of people want to talk about what happens to the body," she says. "We discuss things like cremation versus green burial."

Outside her volunteer work with the death café, Luscomb runs workshops for people on how to prepare proper instructions for their family, living wills that ensure wishes are respected when it comes to stressful issues such as do-not-resuscitate orders. 

She says her decision to start a group has "absolutely nothing" to do with a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision striking down a ban on physician-assisted death.

She predicts that just as baby boomers pushed for sexual liberation in the 1960s, they'll bring change to traditional attitudes around dying.

"I don't think we've been very friendly toward it," she says. "We tuck it away in hospitals. We have a habit of pretending it won't happen to us."

Luscomb says she's happy helping people prepare for the last event of their life, whenever it arrives.

"We should talk about death because it is an important part of life," she says.