The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The Green House hosts monthly space for conversations on death

Every last Tuesday of the month, local cocktail lounge The Green House holds a “Death Cafe” where people are encouraged to have an open conversation around death and dying.
Carly Schrum
Mary McCall and Carol MacVey hold a conversation during the Death Cafe meeting at The Green House in Iowa City on Friday, Aug. 29, 2023.

The Green House owner Emily Salmonson tearfully raised a glass.

“To Grandma Glennys,” she said.

Her drink in hand was the “G.G.” — a cocktail containing Empress Gin and lavender bitters — named after her grandmother who passed three months before the bar’s opening.

“I know she wanted to be here to see this,” Salmonson said, her gaze sweeping across the interior of her bar filled with lush greenery and tables of joyful patrons.

Seven months after its opening, The Green House started hosting a “Death Cafe” on the last Tuesday of every month. The event brings together people of all ages and backgrounds to explore perceptions, curiosities, and fears around death.

The Death Cafe is a nonprofit social franchise founded in 2011 by the late Jon Underwood, who passionately advocated for the care of the dead and dying, and his mother Sue Barksy Reid, a psychotherapist. The scheduled get-togethers were brought from the U.K. to the U.S. by Lizzie Miles in 2012. Miles was passionate about hospice and end-of-life care, has mentored dozens of hosts, and is responsible for helping develop the Death Cafe.

According to its website, the organization’s mission is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their lives.

Death Cafes have been hosted in Iowa City as early as 2015 and are still hosted by the Senior Center, but the environment of The Green House sets a different tone to the conversation around death.

RELATED: Johnson County Holds Third Death Cafe

Facilitator Joyce Janca-Aji introduced the idea to The Green House owner because she saw the bar as the perfect space to ease nerves with its unique drinks and communal energy.

The event is facilitated by a handful of local volunteers. One volunteer, Kate Karacay, said she wanted to explore and share knowledge about the “very sacred and massive transition from a living body into a living realm.”

Cafe-goers, like Michele Lewis, shared the desire to explore the topic of death, even if it might be a taboo subject.

“The reality is, there often isn’t a good time to talk about it,” Lewis said. “It’s exciting for me to see that people were getting together and continuing the conversation around death so that it’s not just a touchy topic.”

The varied age demographic of attendees showed that this conversation is relevant across generations.

This outlook on death seems to be shared by younger generations. University of Iowa student John Paul Cacioppo, who considers himself a member of Generation Z, noticed that young people today view death as “kind of like a joke” rather than a serious conversion.

However, those in older generations can also feel less than comfortable talking about death. Karacay explained that her grandmother, when asked about her funeral wishes, responded, “I’m not dead yet, so don’t talk about it.”

The lack of clarity has caused turmoil among Karacay’s family members, who have differing opinions on how to lay her to rest.

Other attendees shared ideas for their own funerals.

“We’re going to have a big party,” participant Mary Cook said. “Cheapest cremation you’ve got. I’d like [My family] to spend my money on a last family vacation where you’re all together.”

The Death Cafe creates a safe space for any kind of conversation.

The Green House’s monthly Death Cafe allows participants to discuss their ideas in a space that provides food, drink, and good company, exploring a celebration of life’s finitude and death’s inevitability.

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About the Contributors
Lily Czechowicz
Lily Czechowicz, Arts Reporter
Lily Czechowicz is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa from which she earned a degree in English & Creative Writing.
Carly Schrum
Carly Schrum, Photojournalist
Carly is a freshman majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and potentially majoring in sustainability. She works at the Daily Iowan as a photojournalist.