“I didn’t get taken to funerals as a child, I got left behind. As a result I had no healthy death experiences to draw from. I became a funeral-avoidant death-phobic scaredy-cat. I was so bad at dealing with loss, terrible at supporting friends. I didn’t know what to say and often for fear of saying the wrong thing, I’d say nothing.
Because of Death Cafe I’m now more comfortable talking about death and have become, I think; a better friend, colleague, and family member.
Death Cafe is a group-directed discussion amongst strangers over coffee and cake. It’s usually in an actual cafe, hosted free of charge. It’s probably easier to say what it’s not: it’s not grief support, there’s no advice, no agenda, and no speakers.
It’s a social franchise, and really anyone can run one if they stick to the rules. I started the Christchurch one in 2016, and have been hosting monthly discussions ever since.
Talking about death with a bunch of strangers does sound like it could be morbid or depressing. But it’s really the opposite. Conversations are authentic and juicy. And I think it’s sometimes easier to talk about taboo topics with people we don’t know, than with people we are familiar with. There’s no judgement, people generally share very freely. It’s been a very rich experience; it’s taught me a lot.
Each Death Cafe is different because it’s made up of an ever-changing group of people and varies depending on what they want to talk about. It’s grown to over 800 members now. Each gathering there’s a mix of regulars, first-timers, and tourists that find us on Meetup.
Death acceptance is about maintaining an awareness that everything is impermanent. Savour it all, because nothing is forever. That is the gift of being aware of our mortality.
I think collectively we’ve been through a death experience. COVID has in a way given the whole world, simultaneously, an opportunity to consider our mortality. But now it seems to me we’ve come out of it. There’s this sense of – we’ve been in winter and now it’s spring, so let’s go go go!. Let’s dance while the music’s playing you know?”