D is for Death Cafe

D is for Death Cafe.

I drove home last night from the bi-monthly Death Cafe meeting that I co-run feeling calmer and more at peace with life. I felt that I had listened to other peoples’ feelings and that made me feel good. Death Cafe is a safe environment and often the only chance attendees get to express how they feel about death and loss. When I tell friends I run a Death Cafe there is always a look of horror and bemusement on their faces. ‘What do you do at a Death Cafe?’ They ask. ‘Drink blood? Offer a sacrifice to the gods?’ And ‘that sounds morbid, why would you want to talk about death?’

The Book of Common Prayer, part 4 says that ‘In the midst of life there is death.’ Death pervades life. We start dying the minute we take our first breath. Look at the seasons; the way the natural world grows and dies – a very beautiful process. When the Book of Common Prayer was written people dodged death every day. Life was a game of chance and death no stranger. Death wasn’t removed to the hospital or hospice. You cared for your loved ones and in death too. You would have seen much death.

But death is different today and when we lose a loved one we find it hard to cope. Does death change the way we behave, look at life and assess our own mortality? For the people that come to Death Cafe the answer is yes it does. Death Cafe is a way of exploring your feelings about death and the loss of loved ones. No one will judge you. No one will be shocked. No one will frown and tell you you are odd for feeling the way you do.

Last night a range of different emotions were expressed. Several  attendees had travelled a fair distance to attend and so I hoped they would come away with something from the evening. One of the overriding themes at Death Cafe is the difficulty we have in coming to terms with loss, even years later. One person said that they feel desperately sad because their father will never be able to share in their achievements and interests and see what they are doing. That is all gone with death. Another person has put his loved one neatly in a box but talks to her every day because that is his way of coping. Sometimes people will see their loved one in an animal – maybe a black bird or a robin and sometimes they will hear words spoken that only their loved one said.

Sometimes attendees will be troubled by death because of significant life markers. Maybe they have just retired and suddenly their mortality is at the forefront of their mind. Or maybe they have had a terrible experience: a son who has committed suicide, multiple deaths in their community, a horrific death like a car crash. Death Cafe is a chance to talk and share. No one at Death Cafe looks the other way, crosses the road to avoid you. We listen, we share, we hand tissues round.

One conclusion to draw from our evening is that the dead still live with us, in our heart, in our day to day lives and in the decisions we make. And by tackling the greatest mystery of all – death we can begin to reassess our life and make the most of our finite time here on earth.


Euro Debacle D for Greek debt crisis

Euro Debacle D for Greek Debt Crisis: The words debt, default, deficit have become synonymous with the state of the Greek economy. On Sunday the Greek people voted to reject the bailout terms of the international creditors and with that result the country is now nudging ever closer to leaving the 19 nation Eurozone. The Greeks, let’s face it hate the Germans – their resentment stems from the German occupation during the war and so it was obvious they were going to vote no.

How many of you really know why Greece got itself into this financial mess?

Greece is fundamentally a corrupt nation. It all began decades ago when government after government increased its payroll. Supporters of the two main political parties were rewarded with government positions or massive pay rises to the extent that 1:5 citizens hold a government job.

Also at the root of the crisis lies a very efficient tax system with poor enforcement for tax evasion and six different rates of VAT with plenty of opportunities for tax dodging.

Greece also has a complex pension system. Its’ government spends 30% more on pensions than Britain but despite this it isn’t actually that generous. It needs simplification to make it cheaper to run.

Greece had buried its’ head in the sand for years; in denial to the looming crisis and its’ financial efficiency. In 1999 it failed to meet the financial criteria to join the Euro but in 2001 it was allowed in. Unbeknown to the European Parliament it cooked the figures to get in – hiding the true extent of its’ debt, lying about its’ deficit (it wasn’t 3.4% as it claimed to be but in fact much higher – 15%). It turned to its’ neighbours to borrow and few questions were asked because being in the EU it was a ‘trusted’ nation.

But then in 2008 the country imploded. Greece became the epicentre of Europe’s debt crisis. It had underestimated its’ deficit figures for years and in 2010 was veering towards bankruptcy.

Greece has received several bailouts from the Troika but they came with harsh conditions – austerity terms requiring deep budget cuts and steep tax rises. It nows owes 340 billion Euros borrowed over 5 years. Greek debt is now 180% of its’ GDP.

The European Union does not work as an economic project and the case of Greece highlights this clearly. Why would we, in our right minds want a currency union with Greece? Or Italy or Portugal? Europe is not an optimal currency area. The economies are too big, too disparate. Europe, unlike the USA has limited labour mobility. And our living conditions, welfare states are vastly different. The ECB cannot create a policy that is appropriate everywhere. Economic policy is flawed. If the economy in the Netherlands is strong, for instance and weak in Spain Spaniards can’t just move to the Netherlands. The language barrier will always be the biggest issue. There are too many languages across Europe. Fundamentally, therefore economic union does not work.

The EU can never control another country’s finances. Greece was a reckless spender and ignored the rules on responsible borrowing. It is not a big exporter. Its’ top export is refined petroleum, priced in dollars.

The Greeks will not be able to pay back their debts because their economy will be slow to recover. Ultimately if you lend money don’t expect it back. Grexit will happen. It is better to get on with it sooner than later but out of the whole crisis lessons need to be learned. Economic union is seriously flawed.