Local resident Ann Kenrick welcomes neighbours to the Hub to talk about death at the fourth Death Café that she has held in the local area. The objective of the Death Café movement is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.
In Britain Jon Underwood was the first to invite people to his home in Hackney in 2010. In continental Europe there has long been a tradition to talk about important and interesting subjects in a café philo or a philosophical café. Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist, set up a café mortel, or death café, on which Jon based his concept. Jon died recently, aged 44 but death cafes are now held all over the world.
There is no agenda – simply the opportunity to break the taboo of talking about such an important subject for us all. At a recent gathering in Camberwell nine people came. There was homemade apple cake, lemon drizzle cake and tea. There was conversation, some of it profound, lots of laughter, no tears. All who came left happy.
Experiences were shared; some poignant moments of farewell or the family gathered around a father’s bedside but also arguments with siblings over where parents should be buried. Lack of planning or communication had sometimes left scars taking decades to heal.
The challenge of decluttering was debated. One had enjoyed taking time sorting their parents’ ‘stuff’ whilst for others this had been a burden, they still had crates of memorabilia waiting to be dealt with and worried about what to do with their own stuff to make it easier for others when they died.
One spoke of the horror of seeing his mother embalmed and covered in excessive makeup by the undertakers. Another talked of the Irish tradition of viewing the dead, reporting how she had overheard young nephews before a funeral gleefully anticipating the ‘open casket’. A healthy attitude many felt. One mentioned having told her family of her wish to donate her body to medical science. She was grateful for another’s strong advice that her family might also need guidance regarding some sort of memorial event in lieu of a funeral.
Thinking ahead to old age we talked about the importance of Lasting Powers of Attorney for Health and Finance in case we lose capacity. We all had stories to tell of where things had gone awry for friends without these. Ensuring access to relevant digital data was highlighted although most admitted they had done little to share passwords. It is always too early until it is too late!
It was refreshing and uplifting to have such an open and honest discussion ranging from the very practical to quite deep philosophical considerations.
To take part in further death cafes or for end of life planning advice (in groups or for individuals) visit www.endoflifematters.co or email me email@example.com.