Friday, July 19, 2024

Kick out rote, kick up the roam

by Margaret E. Davis
| April 21, 2024 12:00 AM

“Death Cafe”— it’s not your average cuppa.

Intrigued, I headed to Whitefish on a recent spring afternoon to spend time in a coffee shop with 16 others discussing the end, our ends.

Far from grim, the participants — gently moderated by the Glacier Death Doula Collective led by Niki Glynos-Wolford — engaged wholeheartedly with the topic. The collective states, “Death Cafe aims to shift the conversation around death and dying from one of fear and avoidance to one of familiarity and comfort.”

First we were asked to envision death, and what we wanted to occur.

There were mentions of a disco party, a wool shroud, an open pyre and more (“I want to be a tree”). Someone had seen a green-burial booth at a Northwest Flower & Garden Festival in Seattle, and another commented, “That’d be a good business for somebody,” given the interest many expressed in human composting.

If that sounds too ew, the participants made points about how they felt death had become industrialized, changed from its historic “intimate, in the home” nature. One commenter said, “It’s no longer a community matter,” and another agreed, saying, “People with black coats may have taken something from us.”

“Death is difficult to talk about,” one of the collective’s leaders said. “My dream is to have this room packed with people.” It seemed well attended as it was, with several more people joining throughout the discussion. 

Many took to the topic straightaway. “Death is merely a transition,” one said. “Life’s an adventure, and death is a bigger one.” We wondered at the prospect of hereafter, and the positive spin continued as the talk turned to grief: “Know that love is grief,” another of the collective’s leaders chimed in. “A lot of beautiful things come out of death.”

Film, book and podcast recommendations were made, and we packed up to go live some more with death likely out of mind (at least until a next Death Cafe, on May 15).

On the way home, I heard the echo of one participant, who said, “The good life creates the good death.” 

I decide that “good” translates to “happy” because that seems the key to living longer and healthier and the world is more apt to shine back with positive reinforcement.

“Roaming entropy” doesn’t sound like something desirable. It is. Researchers in 2020 found that new experiences improved mood.

“What we found was that for every person, on days when they displayed greater exploration, greater ‘roaming entropy,’ they reported feeling happier. It's as simple as that,” study co-author Dr. Aaron Heller of the University of Miami, told Gabriella Paiella, a writer for GQ.

Paiella noted that the researchers found that “positive feelings from experiencing something new bled into the next day, if not the day after that.”

You don’t have to go far, either. It could be as simple as taking an experimental way home or eating at a new restaurant. 

The only requirement is that these new experiences be “visceral and physical,” according to Dr. Rich Walker of Colorado State University Pueblo, another researcher cited by Paiella. They can’t be digital experiences, which he called “emotionally flat … they’re simply just forgotten very rapidly.”

Margaret E. Davis, executive director of the Northwest Montana History Museum, can be reached at