Death Cafes are great!

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“I attended my first death cafe recently and was surprised to discover that the gathering of goths, emos and the terminally ill that I’d imagined, turned out to be a collection of fascinating, normal individuals united by a wish to discuss mortality.” Those are the words of journalist Matilda Battersby, writing in The Independent in August 2012. My own experience in the Death Cafés that I have attended has been just the same. In no time at all there is a buzz of lively conversation, sometimes interspersed with a good deal of laughter as well.

It is fascinating how the Death Café idea has now gone round the world since the first English-speaking one in 2011. The concept clearly answers a need – to date there have been, it is estimated, nearly 3,500 of them. A glance at the Death Café website shows typically that on September 26th there are no fewer than five death cafes being held in the UK and USA.  This includes the one at Charlbury, Oxfordshire, which is happening from 3.15 to 5.15 pm as part of the Kicking the Bucket Festival. Here’s the link to it- http://deathcafe.com/deathcafe/3734/

Perhaps what attracts people to come to Death Cafes is the agenda of having no agenda. After a very short welcome from the host, people are free to let the discussion roam where it will. Those who organise Death Cafes do so on the clear understanding that they should have “no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action”. Death Cafes simply give people “permission” to talk as openly as they like about what can often be an uncomfortable topic in other social gatherings.

Of course it is natural to feel some reluctance to talk about death and dying. Few of us like being reminded of our mortality, and I suspect that an obsession with it would be a sign of something pathological. On the other hand, a refusal to face it at all isn’t helpful either. It is my belief that for those who aren’t currently face to face with death – in the form of an illness of their own, or of someone close to them – the healthy option is something along the following lines. From time to time we need to take out the file marked “The end of my life” from our mental filing cabinet, open it, and check that it’s up to date. Having made sure that the arrangements that we know we should make are all in order, we can then put it back in the file for a while. And get on with life.

Those arrangements should include the relatively straightforward and obvious, such as making a will and, perhaps, planning for future powers of attorney if we become incapable. That should move us on to thinking about other practicalities – what is our attitude towards resuscitation, for instance, and do we want to specify the details of our own funerals. If we have family members it is good, if we can, to talk through these things with them so that they will have the confidence to take decisions in the future knowing that they are doing what we wanted.

Coming to a Death Café can be a very helpful way of picking up ideas from others on what’s helpful and what isn’t. Why not give it a try?

Duncan Forbes.

Details of all the Kicking the Bucket Death Cafes can also be found under “Diary of Events” on this website

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