Just over a month ago, I chose to spend 2 1/2 hours of my Monday evening in the Wild Food Cafe in Neal’s Yard talking about death. It's not my natural habitat (the Wild Food Cafe I mean, not death chat). I was worried about yoghurt-knitting and hemp soup shenanigans. Those who know me know I'm more of a pint and a fag girl. It was actually rather lovely.
I almost didn't drag myself there on a wet, cold, dark November Monday after work with ANOTHER head cold on the go. But I did, and I'm very glad I made the effort. I'm bad at hobbies and classes and extra curricula stuff as I don't do planning ahead. How does anyone know whether they'll feel like Pilates/Spanish/knitting class in a week's time? It was good that I didn't have to book, that I could just show up.
I'm not going to rave about how good it feels to discuss death openly from every angle. You either get that or you don't. If you don't, I'd urge you to start getting with it - we're all dying after all. Unless you feel totally relaxed about that for yourself and your loved ones, you could probably do with some friendly and interesting conversations exploring feelings and fears with the simple aim of lessening negative emotions.
This Death Cafe was unlike the other I'd been to (which was much smaller). This was maybe 40 of us of mixed age and type. First-timers and those more seasoned. Represented were death professionals (low cost funerals; alternative ceremonies); Spiritualist types (rebirth; "your last year" workshop); nurses; ministers; the bereaved and the interested.
I spoke to a woman whose healthy partner of 25 years had died suddenly 4 months ago. She'd been walking past and seen the sign and wanted to get away from the sad faces and silence that accompanies the news usually. I also spoke with an actress who's playing a dying woman on tv who wanted very much to do it well and do it justice.
We shared stories and listened to others. We reflected and received tips and insight from others who know about this stuff, either from work or experience. I was intrigued and moved hearing about the custom of the Native American death song and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is on my To Read list along with Steven Levine’s A Year to Live: How to Live this Year as if it were your Last.
The event was expertly facilitated by Kate Hambleton, a hospice nurse and Anja Saunders, Interfaith minister and group facilitator and the venue was great. There’s more I could share but instead I’ll simply say I wholeheartedly recommend a Death Cafe as an evening out. I’m sure I’ll return.
The contemplation always leads to talk about living, and leaves most feeling liberated and more able to decide what to concern themselves with. It also leaves many feeling relieved to have found somewhere to openly talk about what to many of us is fascinating – how do I live my life with my eyes and my heart open and be ready when my time comes?