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.

10/04/14 8:00am
The Suffolk Times People of the Year included, from left, Mike Comanda (co-Person of the Year), David Gamberg (co-Person of the Year), Heather Lanza (Public Servant of the Year), Charlie Manwaring (Business Person of the Year) Doris and Ron McGreevy (Civic People of the Year) and Al Edwards (Educator of the Year). (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

The Suffolk Times People of the Year included, from left, Mike Comanda (co-Person of the Year), David Gamberg (co-Person of the Year), Heather Lanza (Public Servant of the Year), Charlie Manwaring (Business Person of the Year) Doris and Ron McGreevy (Civic People of the Year) and Al Edwards (Educator of the Year). (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Every year at this time we use this space to ask Suffolk Times readers to nominate candidates for our People of the Year issue. As we have for decades, we will name an educator, businessperson, and overall person of the year in January.

We will also introduce three new categories: community leader (combining the former civic and public servant winners), sports person and northforker.com person of the year, honoring someone in the food, wine or tourism industry.

With their heartfelt nominations, our readers have always played perhaps the most important role in the selection process. Last year, they helped us choose a wide array of worthy recipients, from the owner of a popular local fish market to a legendary basketball coach, a town planner, a couple who fought for dredging of the inlet near their home and a pair of school superintendents.

Who were last year’s people of the year?

We’ve always prided ourselves on honoring people from diverse fields and all walks of life. We want to hear about people like the teacher who went above and beyond to help you become a better student or the business owner who never stops giving back to the community.

This town is loaded with residents who work tirelessly to make our area a better place. We always have a growing list of people who are more than qualified to earn such an honor. That list can never be too long.

We realize there are a great many people doing big things in their community who don’t seek the spotlight. As a result, the work they do is hardly noticed. That’s who we’re talking about.

Do you know such a person? Let us know.

Nominations can be mailed to Times/Review Newsgroup, P.O. Box 1500, Mattituck, NY 11952. Or you can email the editor at mwhite@timesreview.com. Faxes are OK, too; our fax number is 631-298-3287. Or just give us a call at 631-298-3200 and ask for Michael White at extension 152.

Tell us why this person or group is deserving — and please be sure to give us your phone number so we can follow up. All correspondence will be kept confidential, so the people nominated don’t even have to know you are singling them out. Nominations should be submitted by Dec. 1.

We plan to announce our People of the Year in the Jan. 8, 2015, edition.

10/03/14 8:00am
10/03/2014 8:00 AM

IMG_5462

I’ve got an idea: Let’s reroute Route 48 to the south in order to avoid further pedestrian deaths near the Soundview. Or build a pedestrian bridge or tunnel across the highway. Better yet, let’s move the Soundview to the north, on pilings over the Sound, thus eliminating parking on the south side of the highway.  (more…)

10/03/14 7:00am
Howard Meinke’s three children (L-R) Nancy Morrell, Jeffrey Meinke and Janice Dunbar all spoke at a memorial last week. (Credit: Michael White)

Howard Meinke’s three children (L-R) Nancy Morrell, Jeffrey Meinke and Janice Dunbar all spoke at a memorial last week. (Credit: Michael White)

I, along with much of Southold, mourn the loss of a good man, my friend Howard Meinke. Howard was more than just a friend. He was a comrade in our shared passion for both the environment and social justice and we often joined forces in the same battles. (more…)

10/01/14 6:50pm
10/01/2014 6:50 PM

To the editor:

Oct. 5-11 is National Fire Prevention Week. This year’s theme is “Working Smoke Detectors Save Lives. Test Yours Every Month.” Fire Prevention Week was started by the National Fire Prevention Association after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, during which 300 people died and 100,000 were left homeless.  (more…)

09/28/14 6:05pm
(Credit: Governor Andrew Cuomo's office)

(Credit: Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office)

On Shelter Island, Zephyr Teachout defeated Governor Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination for governor. 

Shelter Island Town Democrats “are not far-left liberals by any means,” said Heather Reylek, long-time Shelter Island Democratic chairwoman. “Many are fiscal conservatives.”

Ms. Teachout beat Mr. Cuomo on the Island 55 to 46.

But it wasn’t just on the Island. Ms. Teachout did extraordinarily well in Suffolk County and statewide.  (more…)