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Mortality bites, so Death Café relishes roundtable

You can call them the Granola Group. Or Menschen, a Yiddish term for people with honor and integrity. Or ROMEO – Retired Old Men (and Women) Eating Out.

But there’s another applicable term, based on one of the topics that often pops up when dozens of mostly retired men and women meet for coffee every Tuesday morning at Spot Coffee on Elmwood Avenue:

Death Café.

This group, which relies heavily on its self-deprecating sense of humor, doesn’t shy away from its advanced age and mortality.

A few youngsters in this group are in their 60s, most in their 70s and quite a few in their 80s.

So they often go around the table, each of the 30 or so people in attendance telling about his or her own physical infirmities.

They lovingly call that the “Organ Recital.”

And the group has had its own Death Café lecture series, a half-dozen lectures on topics such as hospice care, making health care directives, assisted dying and finding the best funeral, burial and cremation options.

“We’re confronting our mortality,” said founder Richard Gordon, a retired Buffalo attorney.

Gordon founded the group in May 2002, when he was 65. He’s now 78, and, of course, not the only member who has aged.

“There are a whole lot of people who have marched along with me,” he said. “The more we confront our mortality, the more meaningful and open the discussions become. We’re all profiting from hearing each other’s fears and hopes.”

When any group of senior citizens gets together, the conversation often drifts to health, and at least 10 of the roughly 45 members on the group’s email list are retired doctors.

“The doctors are terrific. We save a lot of money on medical appointments,” Gordon quipped. “People go around the table and get second, third and fourth opinions.”

The group can boast about its ability to meet under any circumstances for so many years. Snowstorms, vacations, even most major holidays, can’t stop it from meeting.

Tuesday marks the group’s 13th anniversary, and in the 676 weeks since its founding, it has missed only one Tuesday, on Yom Kippur. On other days when it might be tough to meet, such as Christmas, the group just convenes in a member’s home.

There is one standard practice, that a person celebrating a milestone, especially a big birthday or the birth of a grandchild, picks up the tab for all the coffee and Danish.

But there’s no set agenda. People come in and simply sit down at the next available seat. They talk about the obvious: politics, sports, their own milestones and, naturally, their grandchildren. And sometimes the topic turns more academic, to a subject such as Victorian literature.

Mostly, though, they just work on building friendships, some new, some old.

Liz Clark, a retired Buffalo lawyer, had moved to Colorado but returned a couple of years ago and joined the group.

“It’s the most interesting group of people,” she said. “These are people involved in life, involved in the City of Buffalo – doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, teachers and professors.”

The group provides her and others with a way to keep current on what’s going on in the community. You never know whom you’re going to sit next to, she said, and sometimes you don’t agree with the other person’s opinion.

“But I know the opinion I’m going to get is thoughtful and gives me food for thought,” she added.

“It’s something I never thought I would do,” she said of the group. “It’s one of the things that makes retirement particularly wonderful.”

Besides the Death Café lectures, other talks have been held at the nearby Panera Bread, including ones on Cuba, downtown development and the planned Canterbury Woods at Gates Circle.

The group also has some more active events planned, such as a May 19 tour of the Inn Buffalo on Lafayette Avenue and a June 23 bus tour led by urbanist/preservationist Mark Goldman and longtime public official Richard Tobe.

Gordon, still an active tennis player who doesn’t mind joking about his age, was asked how long he thinks the group can last.

He paused for a moment, then mentioned all the new friendships the group has fostered.

“I think it will outlast a lot of us,” he said. “So we can look forward to good attendance at our funerals.”