Update: Friday 17th June I will be hosting a Death Café at Priory Park Café (London, N8) for Crouch End Festival. Click here for more information and sign-up.
When I enthusiastically told a friend that I had been to a Death Café, she looked a bit puzzled. ‘A Death Café? That sounds really creepy’, was her first reply. ‘I mean, you are healthy and full of life, so why would you be bothered about death?’
Her reaction reflects how a lot of people think about death. It’s not something you talk about, let alone in public and gosh, no, not with complete strangers! Death is something to stay away from because it is sad, eerie and disturbing.
But isn’t that strange?
We plan our wedding, making sure that this defining moment in our life is being celebrated just as we want. We plan for the arrival of a child, making sure that the new life is being welcomed in the most personal and loving way.
So why don’t we plan our funeral, ensuring that our final goodbyes reflect our wishes and personalities?
In the end, death is all about life. It’s part of the cycle of life. It’s something that will happen to all of us. And when it happens, our life converges to what really matters. Love. Meaning. Presence.
Death is not something to run away from, or to ignore. It’s something to embrace, because thinking of our mortality helps us define how we would like to live our lives to the full.
“Death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love.” (Rainer Maria Rilke).
So yes, it’s because I am healthy and full of life that I want to talk about death. And a Death Café is just the right place to do such a thing.
At a Death Café, people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. It’s a non for profit, open and relaxing event, run by volunteers at a regular or ad hoc basis. The Death Cafe model was developed by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid, based on the ideas of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. The first Death Café was held in 2011 in Hackney, London, and since then, Death Cafes have spread quickly across Europe, North America and Australasia.
I had heard of Death Cafes at my celebrant training. Curious, I decided to attend one earlier this year. It was a Death Café hosted by Louise Winter and David Blackwell.
It was a wonderful evening, full of fascinating and insightful discussions. There was no agenda, the only guidance we got was to ‘talk about death, the common denominator of us all’.
The thing I took home is that death has as many faces as there are human beings:
- Death is the indefinite fear of a woman. She couldn’t explain this fear as she had never seen a dead person or had been confronted with the end of life ‘apart from her hamster that died when I was a child’.
- Death is the story about a man who invented a machine to talk to his dead wife.
- Death is the care and comfort that a Hospice worker gives to someone with a terminal illness.
- Death are the ghosts that someone sees in his house. ‘They’re not scary, they’re just there, passing by’.
- Death is an abstract concept for the woman who doesn’t have any particular feelings or thoughts about the subject.
- Death is the vocation of a young female funeral director, who talks about the practical aspects of dealing with dead bodies.
- Death is the tears that someone shares in the loving memory of her late mother.
These stories show just a few of the faces of death, revealed by the people around us. They confirm that death has everything to do with our lives. Here and now. Death is life-confirming. This is an insight that may change our lives. It may help us focus on the things that really matter to us, leading a more fulfilling life.
So, what do you think of death? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. I would love to hear from you!
Death Cafes are planned year round and take place world-wide. To check dates and availability, please visit the Death Café website: www.deathcafe.com.