Hospice chaplain LaRocca-Pitts helps break wall of silence surrounding end-of-life


    There seems to be an increasing fascination with death in pop culture. Whether in books, movies, television shows, music or video games, it is difficult to avoid references to zombies, vampires or the “undead.”
      What has been generally lacking through the current pop obsession with death has been any serious, thoughtful conversation. While there is no lack of references to death across all forms of media, meaningful discussion is still, for most people, uncomfortable if not taboo.
    Filling that void is a movement that recently emerged in England -- death cafes. Their purpose: to allow people to have honest conversations about the issues and emotions involving end-of-life issues.
    Earlier this month, Mark LaRocca-Pitts, who serves as a hospice chaplain in the North Georgia Conference, was featured in a USA Today story about death cafes. LaRocca-Pitts recently helped organize a death café at the historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. About 40 people attended.
    “Death and dying are still taboo topics in our culture,” LaRocca-Pitts said. “These events serve an important function by allowing people to talk rationally about issues involving death when there is no crisis at hand.”
     In his role as a hospice chaplain, LaRocca-Pitts has seen first-hand the benefits of having open and honest conversations about death. He also understands that standing at the side of a patient in intensive care is not the optimum time for family members to discuss emotional, end-of-life issues.
    “There is a great comfort for family members when they know they are following the wishes of a dying loved one,” he said. “When conversations have taken place beforehand it is easier for family members to let a loved one go peacefully.”
        A variety of topics are discussed at the death cafes, including: advance directive planning, greatest fears, preferences for funeral arrangements and even what happens after death.
       “I find people are more afraid of dying than being dead,” LaRocca-Pitts. “They are more concerned about the uncertainty of how they will die than what they are facing in death.”
   LaRocca-Pitts said that other common fears among those facing death, even among active Christians, are the questions: Have I been truly forgiven? What does it mean to be saved?
    “Faith is very important in all this,” he said. “As Christians, we understand the call to die to ourselves. Death is not something we need to fear. People of faith are more likely to approach death peacefully. As a hospice chaplain I am blessed to be able to walk with people in this sacred time.”
    LaRocca-Pitts believes the popularity of death cafes will continue to increase as more people understand the benefits. A second gathering at Oakland Cemetery is planned for April 27. He says his group is planning on holding one event a month.
   “I think you will see death cafes like this spreading across the country,” LaRocca-Pitts said. “It is good for people to have a place to discuss these issues and work through them.”
       For more information, go to “death café atlanta” on Facebook or email Mark LaRocca-Pitts  atmark.laroccapitts@gmail.com.