Shae Long and Taylor Swain get together for a planning meeting at Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston where their first Death Talk L-A event will be held in March. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

LEWISTON — Shae Long and Taylor Swain want to talk to you. About death.

Photos of Shae Long’s brother and Taylor Swain’s grandmother, on a table at Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston. Both of them have both passed away and left a lasting impact on the two young women. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

Not to be morbid. Or to sell anything. Or to add to your grief — though if you’re grieving, they wouldn’t mind talking with you about that, too.

They just want people to discuss death more than they do, which often is only when it happens and, even then, briefly and full of sadness.

“We want to be there to approach it in a way that’s funny and energetic and supportive,” Long said.

The women have started Death Talk L-A, a series of events and online forums in which people discuss death, whether that means a philosophical, “I wonder what happens after we die,” or a logistical, “I need to make a will.”

Their goal: make dying a more acceptable topic to share.

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“I feel death is pretty taboo still,” Swain said. “People aren’t necessarily informed of what’s available to them when it comes to be their time.”

Long and Swain are unlikely people to promote conversations about death. Long, 26, and Swain, 27, seem decades from researching burial plots and scanning the obituaries for old classmates. But both women have lost loved ones — Swain’s beloved grandmother died when Swain was young; Long’s brother died in a motorcycle accident in 2014; a shared friend died in a car crash about five years ago, just after he turned 22.

“That could have been me,” Swain said. “He probably didn’t know he was going to die. Tomorrow’s not promised.”

Long and Swain believe their loved ones’ deaths could have been handled better by the people left behind.

“It was very sudden, very traumatic. There’s a lot of different angles with that,” Long said of her brother’s death. “I think that my family specifically is very closed off. I always want to talk about it and reminisce and nobody else wants to. And I think that’s the standard response. I think a lot of people are like that.”

Long has a background in social work and has considered a career in grief counseling. Swain is more intrigued by energy work.

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The two friends grew interested in the “death positive community” after Long stumbled on a certification course for end-of-life doulas — professionals who support and advocate for people who are dying and their families. From there, she encountered community conversations in Portland dubbed “death cafes.” Long, a Lewiston native living in Poland, felt L-A could use something similar.

“I think Lewiston is ready for it,” she said.

Long and Swain created a Death Talk L-A Facebook page and a website (with the tag line, “We’re dying to meet you”) and began presenting online Death Talk Tuesdays, posting short essays from Mainers who have experienced loss. They reached out to restaurants and community groups to see if anyone was willing to help people talk death in real life.

It turned out they were.

The first Death Talk L-A event will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, March 4, at Bear Bones Beer in Lewiston. The second will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, at Craft Brew Underground in Auburn.

The events will feature food and activities, including the card game Morbid Curiosity, which offers questions such as, “What’s your favorite cinematic death scene?” and “Who would you choose to officiate at your funeral?”

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“Just things to really start the conversation,” Long said. “Let’s bring it up and see where it goes organically after that. We don’t want to go full 100 percent into it and just make people super uncomfortable. We want to get them there, let’s start the conversation and from there we can see what you’re comfortable with and what we can push a little more to see where we can get to.”

The events will also feature a “Before I die” board where people can post the things they’d like to do in their lives.

“Just to kind of get it out in the open and see where it goes from there,” Long said. “Those are your desires and your goals, and we want to help you pursue those and get those out in the open. And even if you don’t end up eventually doing that, get it out in the open. Talk to your family about it. Talk to anyone about it.”

The events are not designed as support groups and could be upsetting to some people who are grieving or battling suicidal thoughts. Long and Swain will have information for people who need mental health support or other help.

This summer, Death Talk L-A will have a table at the local Art Walk. Information will be geared more toward children and families — with the possible addition of a casket display.

“I think it’s definitely going to spark a discussion, which is most of the reason why we started this,” Long said. “We don’t want to be overbearing in any way. We don’t want to be negative. We don’t want to be barging into people’s space.”

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The events are not meant to promote death, but are “more about allowing people to feel comfortable talking about death,” Swain said.

Eventually, they hope, death won’t be so taboo a subject.

“It’s so universal,” Long said. “There are so many ways we can come together and just be together in the moment. Grief and loss shouldn’t be alone. You can just come to peace so much better with other people who understand and are going through the same thing.”

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