A MAN in his twenties tells us about his friend's death. In the
night, he dreamt about this friend. The next morning, he found out
that he had died. A teenage girl shares how her Nan did not want to
talk about the end when she was dying. A doctor tells us that she
sees death every day at work.
I am at a Death Café, run by new monastic community Moot. I
arrived late, and the first thing that struck me was the noise and
laughter. I'd worried that it would be morbid. Far from it.
There is no need for small talk. We already have one thing in
common: our mortality, and we are relishing the chance to discuss
it. The elephant has left the room.
My husband is with me, and chips in. When his dad was dying, his
family was in such denial that he never felt it was OK to tell his
dad the important things, like how much he would miss him. Another
woman worries aloud about leaving her daughter behind. I talk about
how grief seems to be physical as well as emotional.
Death Cafés are now something of a worldwide phenomenon.
Developed by Jon Underwood in association with a psychotherapist,
Sue Barsky Reid, and based on the "café mortel" model of
the Swiss sociologist and ethnologist Bernard Crettaz, there have
been 1176 Death Cafés held around the world since 2011. Run on a
voluntary, non-profit basis, they can be organised by anyone, as
long as he or she signs up to a Death Café "guide" and
Death Cafés are not meant to be grief-support or counselling
groups, just a friendly space where you can talk about death. They
have taken place in some interesting locations: people's homes,
community halls, a cemetery, and the South Bank Centre, London.
For me, the experience is surprisingly liberating, and I leave
feeling lighter. Later, over a beer with a friend, I say where we
have been, worried I will cast a downer on proceedings by
mentioning the D-word. Our friend immediately starts talking about
her will. I resolve to do something about ours: after four years of
marriage, we still do not have one.
I am still procrastinating, but Will Aid Week is coming up: a
golden opportunity to put my affairs in order. Thanks to my Death
Café experience, the idea of thinking about death and making a will
is a bit less scary.
Moot is holding a Death Café on 31 October, at its Host Café
in St Mary Aldermary, London, run with the Office of Public