So what is a Death Café??? – Er actually did you say ‘Deaf Café’ or ‘Death Cafe’?
‘You heard correctly, I said ‘DEATH Café, Death Café as in dying’.
I then commonly see many shrink back in horror and look at me as though I am the Grim Reaper!
Once I explain that Death Cafés are part of a global movement with over 4000 held internationally to date, that they allow people (often strangers) to discuss death freely and explore their feelings openly and honestly, that they are there to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite lives), they exhale. Their curiosity then kicks in and I’m asked questions about why I do what I do and they usually share a little about their experiences with death.
At the end of the conversation, they say that it wasn’t so bad and tell me ‘actually you’re quite normal…’. I just smile and invite them to my next Death Café.
I’d been interested in facilitating something which would have the objective of gathering people to talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement. Because although we know that this is a natural part of everybody’s life cycle, it is still a taboo topic that many people avoid. In addition Dying Matters says awkwardness, embarrassment and fear means we tend to shy away from connecting with those who are dying or those who are grieving. When we don’t talk about what matters it can increase feelings of isolation, loneliness and distress.
I wrote to my local library with a proposal for a pilot ‘Death Chat’ asserting that I view the public space as a hub for local communities to come together to explore, interact and share. It was almost a year ago when I stated that it could be a participant-led conversation in a relaxed and friendly environment; but it would also enable connection building, social engagement, diversity and cultural understanding, emotional well-being and give an educational opportunity. I said the event would be run on a not for profit basis, with no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action.
Unfortunately they felt that ‘such a sensitive subject matter would not be appropriate to take place in open access areas and that those attending would be more comfortable in a private space’. Their response totally missed the point that this community event is supposed to be public and educational for all who participate.
So after not giving up and visiting several others during 2016, I started running my own Death Café in January. At the beginning of 2017, I visited a Death Café in the neighbouring borough of Lewisham and once again felt compelled to do something locally. I made the decision to follow their monthly model and decided on the last Saturday of the month at the same time, in the same place.
For each of the previous facilitated cafes, I have been simply amazed by the lovely people attending and the range of topics discussed. Some have partaken in the conversation, others have simply listened, however all have commented that the atmosphere has been welcoming and they are leaving reflecting on the information and experiences shared. The broad spectrum of associated subject matter is vast and we talk about whatever those attending bring to the table.
To quote some of figures from Dying Matters:
– 72% of the public believe that people in Britain are uncomfortable discussing dying, death and bereavement
– Only 18% of British adults say that have asked a family member about their end of life wishes
– 71% of the public agree that if people in Britain felt more comfortable discussing dying, death and
bereavement it would be easier to have our end of life wishes met
– Only 35% of the public sat they have written a will
– Only 32% say that they have registered as an organ donor or have a donor card
– Only 31% have taken out life insurance
– Only 27% have talked to someone about their funeral wishes
– Only 7% have written down their wishes or preferences about their future care should they be unable to make
decisions for themselves
By addressing some of the above areas, death and dying would become more acceptable during life.
I’m pleased to say that with growing numbers of people now confronting death, dying and bereavement, Death Cafés, Death Dinners and Death Chats are becoming increasingly popular and are springing up all over the country.
So whether you are recently bereaved, grieving, just curious about death and dying or work within the field, get down to a Death Café for friendly insightful conversation.
In gaining an awareness of death, we sharpen and intensify our awareness of life.