Talk Death, Eat Cake

Can’t talk about it?  Don’t even want to think about it?  It may be time to stop avoiding the

If a niggling voice somewhere is whispering that this is a block you need to work through, then mark your calendar for this year’s “Dying to Know Day”.  If you happen to be living in Australia, near Sydney, you might like to join like minds on Saturday August 8 (2015) at an event that is still unheard of for most of us….there will be a Death Café happening in the lovely Blue Mountains west of Sydney.  It’s billed as “Talk death and eat cake”.  Unheard of?  Well, only until you start searching….you’ll find these pop up cafes now worldwide.

So what’s a Death Café?  Well, firstly is a taboo breaker.  The idea of the Death Café comes to us from John Underwood, who calls it “a global social franchise, whose objective is to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives”.  The Death Café experience involves a directed group chat (with refreshments), usually led by a trained professional or experienced lay person, but it’s not a counselling session.  Check it out online to find where a group may be meeting in your area and to “meet” some of the convenors.

We came across Mollie Carlile, for example, who calls herself a “deathtalker” as well as working as a health practitioner, writer and artist.  Her motto is “the more we talk, the less we fear”.  She’s not about getting fixated on conversations about death; rather on not avoiding them.  Having these conversations can inform and empower people, so that they can get on with living their everyday lives as fully as possible right up till the time of death.

Now maybe this is not a topic that would probably go down with your own morning coffee group. You may well have noticed how the topic of death is a real conversation stopper.  At best it puts in an appearance wrapped up in a rush of black humour.  Australian writer and performer, Jean Kittson, who’s never averse to a little pot stirring, noted in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (7/7/15):  “My family was masterful at turning a potential occasion for grief into a non-threatening, humorous display of denial as quickly as possible”. Ms Kittson also happens to be the patron of  Palliative Care Nurses Australia.  She suggests it’s about time ideas around death and dying started to come out of the closet.

Australian psychologist, Kerrie Noonon, agrees. “Talking about dying won’t kill you”  is the concluding line from her TedxSydney talk of 2011.  Presto, to 2015, and this is the headline for the Kittson article. So yes, the word is out, the conversation is spreading.

Noonan is also Director of the GroundSwell project which is one place you can go to learn how to organize a Death Café

A Death Café can help us find a common language with which to discuss the dying process.   This is a great help in getting over taboo reactions or the need to avoid the conversation entirely simply by feeling awkward trying to find the right words.  Death media-style presents us mainly with the unnatural, the fearful, the violent. Let’s move on.

Anyone who’s ever taken part in the fascinating process of a Conversation Café might appreciate the potential of this idea. The process can be both insightful and inspiring. Not everyone is lucky enough to have good friends who get together without fear of discussing some of the big ideas that often challenge us. There’s a place in life for the Death Café – things are easier to live with when they’re shared.  Death Cafe also has a Facebook page.






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