10/04/14 10:00am
10/04/2014 10:00 AM
This cake was brought to the first Death Café meeting at Floyd Memorial Library. (Credit: Rachel Young)

This cake was brought to the first Death Café meeting at Floyd Memorial Library. (Credit: Rachel Young)

There’s a scene in the 1977 film “Annie Hall” in which Woody Allen’s character is at a bookstore with his girlfriend, played by Diane Keaton, and he suddenly places copies of “The Denial of Death” and “Death and Western Thought” in front of her.

“I’m gonna buy you these books, because I think you should read them,” he tells her. “You know, instead of that cat book.”

“That’s, uh … that’s pretty serious stuff there,” she says, laughing nervously.

“Yeah, cause I’m, you know, I’m obsessed with, uh, death, I think,” he says. “Big — big subject with me, yeah.”

I was 15 the first time I saw this scene. I was watching it at home with my uncle Peter, who was terminally ill with colon cancer. He began laughing as heartily as his body, much weakened by the rigors of chemotherapy and radiation, allowed.

More than 13 years later, I still vividly remember thinking how remarkable his reaction was; how someone mere months away from dying was able to laugh about his fate.

Despite my uncle’s example, the ability to think about death objectively has mostly eluded me. An anxious child and lifelong sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder, I went through a phase where I regularly begged my mother to reassure me I wouldn’t die for a very, very long time. So I was intrigued when I spotted an advertisement for a group-directed discussion called a “Death Café” at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport.

Organized by Poppy Johnson, the library’s assistant director, a Death Café is a philosophical forum about death that purports to help people “make the most of their (finite) lives,” according to a library flier.

When the group met for the first time Friday afternoon, I was one of a dozen attendees who gathered around a large table in the library’s conference room. Our ranks included a priest, a beekeeper, two couples, a 91-year-old woman and a man with a history of slipping into diabetic comas.

The proverbial ice was broken when another participant arrived late carrying a glazed chocolate cake shaped like a skull.

As we delved into our deliciously macabre dessert, Ms. Johnson delivered a brief history of Death Cafés, the first of which was reportedly organized by Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz in 2004. In the past few years, the volunteer-run model has sprung up in cities around the world.

“I think the idea is that, simply, in our culture we have a real taboo against actually talking about death,” Ms. Johnson told our group before we began. “And anything you don’t talk about somehow takes on scary or magical properties that make it difficult to deal with. Talking about death is one way to embrace life.”

So, that’s what we did.

Rather than make standard introductions (“Hi, I’m Rachel and I’m thrilled to be here!”), Ms. Johnson encouraged each of us to talk briefly about our views on or experiences with death.

The first person to speak said she became aware of death at a young age. She was just 8 years old when her father died. In a short span of time, her brother and mother died, too.

“One of the things I decided was I was not going to be a victim,” she said as I felt my eyes brim with tears under the glare of the basement’s fluorescent lights. An objective discussion about death might have been the goal, but the power of human emotion can’t be underestimated.

The beekeeper told us that in order to help conquer the difficulty she has with death, she began volunteering as a hospice worker almost 10 years ago.

One participant said she decided to come to the Death Café because she figured “anyone who came here would have a sense of humor.”

Another said she was an Irish Catholic who grew up going to wakes and that she’d like to choose how and when she dies.

“Something simple,” she said. “No drama.”

That led us into a brief debate about end-of-life care, with many attendees agreeing they’d like to go out on their own terms. We also talked about “permission to die” — a phenomenon in which people who are terminally ill sometimes don’t die until their loved ones tell them it’s OK to let go.

At one point, our group discussed the idea of an afterlife. Some said they believed in the notion; one man said he believes our spirits become whatever we want them to be. I avoided the priest’s eyes, feeling ashamed, when I revealed that I vacillate on the concept of an afterlife.

“The finality of death scares me,” I told the roomful of strangers, who already felt like friends. “Ceasing to exist when that’s all we’ve ever known.”

They nodded.

Two hours later, I left the library feeling inexplicably moved — and, ironically, reinvigorated about living. I think the others did, too.

We all agreed that we hoped to see each other at next month’s meeting. Alive and well, of course.

Rachel Young is a features writer and copy editor at Times/Review Newsgroup. She can be reached at ryoung@timesreview.com.

09/17/14 12:00pm
09/17/2014 12:00 PM
Flanders artist Andrea Cote at last year's “Eyes on Main Street” event. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Flanders artist Andrea Cote at last year’s “Eyes on Main Street” event in Riverhead. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Flanders artist Andrea Cote, who met with the Greenport Village Board to discuss her latest project Monday night, said she plans to install a temporary interactive art piece in Mitchell Park that highlights the village’s history.  (more…)

09/14/14 8:00am
09/14/2014 8:00 AM
Arthur Swan in his living room in Greenport. At age 89, he'll be leaving his longtime home next week, for a new adventure. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Arthur Swan in his living room in Greenport. At age 89, he’ll be leaving his longtime home next week for a new adventure. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

One could use the most glowing adjectives to describe Arthur Swan’s personality and none of them would seem effusive.

That’s because they’re well deserved: The 89-year-old tenor and voice coach from Greenport is among the world’s rare examples of people who are as smart as they are charming.  (more…)

08/19/14 4:00pm
08/19/2014 4:00 PM
LIRR

LIRR riders board an eastbound train out of Riverhead last summer. (Credit: Steve Rossin, file)

Due to construction projects and track repairs, buses will be replacing Long Island Rail Road trains running between Ronkonkoma and Greenport beginning Sept. 2 and ending Nov. 16, the MTA announced.

The buses will replace four weekday trains — two eastbound and two westbound — between the two train stops while ties are replaced and grade crossings are restored.  (more…)

08/04/14 10:00am
08/04/2014 10:00 AM
A screen shot of the music video created to honor a Peconic Landing employee. (Credit: Youtube)

A screen shot of the music video created to honor a Peconic Landing employee. (Credit: Youtube)

Patricia Lutzky of Peconic Landing was recently awarded LeadingAge New York’s “Professional of the Year” award, and staff members and residents couldn’t be more pleased.

In fact, to show their sheer delight with Ms. Lutzky’s win, everyone at the retirement community came together to create a congratulatory video to the Pharrell Williams’ pop hit “Happy.” (more…)

07/24/14 6:00am
07/24/2014 6:00 AM
Northeast Stage rehearses William Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Northeast Stage rehearses William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Northeast Stage will present William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Greenport’s Mitchell Park Friday through Sunday, July 25-27, at 7 p.m. The rain location is Greenport High School.  (more…)