The Mortals Cafe + Confections brews coffee, tea and mortality

Nestled in the back of Grand Rapids’ downtown Harris Building, The Mortals Café + Confection serves Michigan-made Arbor Teas, Love’s Ice Cream and Littlefoot Coffee Roasters. The Mortals also has death on the menu. An expression of the death café movement, The Mortal’s explains on its website, “Death is a grim topic where discussion can get swept under the rug and, outside cultures that do it well, can become appropriated incorrectly.”

“It's important to provide a space because our culture just isn't that great at having these conversations,” says Abbey Hunter, owner of The Mortals. “This is a space where it's respectful, quiet and peaceful — a space that welcomes those conversations.”
Courtesy The Mortals Café + Confection
Hunter admits that not everyone who walks in is aware that it is a death café. Even so, the décor invites them to consider death in a new light.

"I wanted to start The Mortals Cafe mostly because our culture is terrible when it comes to talking about and preparing for death," Hunt says. "Growing up, I wanted to be a mortician but instead recognized I wanted to pursue the arts for a broader career potential. But I’ve always wanted to be in the death industry somehow."

The Café library offers books on death-related topics. Death-themed coloring books, games and other items strew the tables to inspire conversations about death. Take-out cups have questions printed on them like, “What would you like written for your epitaph?”
Courtesy The Mortals Café + Confection
“It gets people at least thinking about their death or the death of somebody that they care about,” Hunter says. “It acclimates them to the notion and gets them thinking about those questions that they may need to actually have an answer for at some point.”

Like every experience humans share, death is better when people are familiar with what it involves. Much has been written about an American funeral industry that has profited by distancing people from death, for example The American Way of Death and The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford. Death cafes provide opportunities to create change around these ingrained death practices.

“It's always better when you know what's going to happen and how that person, who is going through their death, how they feel about what they want, their wishes and their needs,” Hunter says. “Also, it allows the living person who is grieving to be an advocate for the person dying. It always pains me when I hear somebody's grandmother is ‘ready to go.’ She just wants to move on and die. But the rest of the family is like, ‘No, no, no … We can get better doctors.’ If we were all more comfortable with death, we could know when it's time to let go much more easily.”

Another reason to have good conversations about death is money. When people avoid thinking about their own deaths, they may fail to plan for how their assets will be handled.

“A financial planner who regularly comes into the cafe has told me horror stories about people who did not even want to talk about or plan for their death,” Hunter says. “The more comfortable we are in talking about and planning for our death, the more the people around us can be prepared for it. If we don't have anything planned, everyone who's in our lives has to not only figure all of that stuff out, but they have to grieve during that process, too.”
Courtesy The Mortals Café + Confection
In addition to coffee and conversation, The Mortals hosts ongoing events — all-ages 2nd Tuesday Game Nights; afternoon Café Mortel talks about all things death and dying; Third Thursdays evening events and activities; and a Grief Group from 7 to 9 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month. The Cafe donates 20% of proceeds from its “Monthly Potion”  towards a local non-profit and its Pay-it-Forward program supplies surrounding nonprofits with water and coffee.

“What I like best is when people come in by themselves or with a close friend, they sit up at the bar, and they have really deep conversations,” Hunter concludes. “I love those conversations. It's a bit more than just ‘How's the weather?’ or ‘How are them Whitecaps?’”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy The Mortals Cafe + Confectionary

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