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.