I’ve run over 20 Death Cafes or death conversations in Melbourne. That’s one for each season for several years and many open conversations and workshops about death, grief and loss for professionals like social workers, mental health, aged care and family violence workers.
What kind of Death Cafe do I offer? Well, participants get a chance to be together and explore experiences, values and views on death and grief in a safe setting. And to eat lovely food and see something attractive in front of them. Here’s a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald by a journalist who came along.
At the end of a Death Cafe I ask people to write a word or a phrase that the time talking together has evoked. Today I opened the folder they sit in on my shelf, and had a look. I had the idea I might put every single one that’s been added in, one death conversation after another, into a post. But there are just too many! All I can do is give you a flavour – what people say about death cafe may surprise you.
At each death conversation there is someone who writes Connection. I’m a facilitator and I’m glad when a participant experiences this sense of kinship at an event.
Sometimes the pieces of card I hand out have a lot of space on them and people to write a phrase.
Talking death brings interesting people together
Freedom is ever-evolving, it is never really over
Living for its own sake
Death is part of life, we need to talk about it
Life is too short not to live it to the full.
Beautiful stories shared.
Death is not the end
The importance of living in the here and now.
When I see in the bunch of cards how many references there are to life and how we live, I remember the stories that have been told in different sessions. I’m heartened. At the 2018 Winter Solstice Death Cafe a young woman spoke movingly of how her father’s death had changed her understanding of life and how she would live in future. That was what had made her come along, to be with others who wanted to face the reality of death. Two women talked of their husbands’ deaths and both had warm and humorous stories of how these companions stay with them in a vital way.
When anyone holds the idea that death is opposed to life it’s hard. In a death cafe conversation participants come to a nuanced perspective of the way life and death sit together, and how life and death weave together. Perhaps that led to someone writing Not to live with death dictating choices.
I no longer remember the circumstances, conversation and stories on the occasion someone wrote: There’s no shame in fear. On reflection though I know that facilitated exchange between participants can validate all kinds of experiences. Perhaps those words came from someone who had an experience of losing an important relative at a young age, who was isolated and frightened, and came to feel that there was inevitably something terrible to fear about death. Sharing that story led him to understand that he was just a child then, or that others had also been strongly influenced by experiences they were unprepared for.
Among the cards there are questions, not many, but one person has asked: Why? Another asks: What is the place of meaning?
I’m grateful to have been part of so many rich conversations, in which groups of strangers inform each others’ understandings, in an atmosphere in which death is both ordinary and in some way sacred. Thanks to Jon Underwood for advocating for this hospitable style of open conversation about death through the Death Cafe movement. What people say about death cafe is It’s good to talk!