“When my dad died, his schizophrenia was so severe that my brothers and I had stopped taking his calls. The truth is, by then all three of us wished he were dead. We didn’t say it out loud, but we all knew we were feeling it,” I said, and looked nervously across the table at my 20-year-old daughter, Zelly. She, my wife, Amie, and I had organized a Death Café at Spider House Café in Austin, Texas. Seventeen of us sat at four tables outside under the trees on a warm autumn Sunday evening, eating doughnuts and talking about our experiences with death and loss.

“He’d lost everything by then, and I know we actually wanted him to kill himself. What was keeping him going? He had nothing left to live for. But when he called collect from the mental ward of a hospital for indigents in Miami, I answered, and he told me, ‘Clancy, unless you send me 50 bucks for a bus ticket, I’m going to die in here.’ And I said, ‘Dad, I think you’re in the right place for now.’”

I looked back at my daughter and said, trying to lighten the mood: “Don’t ever do that to me. You send me the money.” Everybody laughed.

“But I didn’t wire my father the 50 bucks. It wasn’t even a week later that the doctor called, and I knew before he told me that my dad was dead. And when I told my older brother, he cried in my arms in the back of our jewelry store, but after that none of the three of us talked about it again. It was like he vanished.”

Megan Mooney, 31, a bright-eyed, gentle, effervescent person—who describes herself as “obsessed with death: I’ve been going to cemeteries for fun since I was a kid”—spoke up. “When someone you love dies, people avoid you. Including members of your own family.”

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