I attended my first “Death Café” last weekend. I had heard about these events in the past but had never had the time to attend, so when I saw that Marie Curie Hospice Edinburgh and Just Festival were hosting a Death Café at St John’s Church, I leapt at the chance to go.
For the uninitiated, a Death Café is a place for people to “gather to eat cake, drink tea, and discuss death”. The events allow people to discuss death in a café setting with no agenda and no pre-determined themes. Instead, it is an opportunity for people to discuss death in a supportive environment. (Although a Death Café is not a support group or a grief counselling session.) There are no prerequisites for attending a Death Café, other than a desire to discuss death. You don’t have to be bereaved; you don’t have to know someone bereaved. You just go to talk about death.
Although as any loyal Just Frances readers will know, I am a member of the bereaved. Yes, I have been a widow for more than 10 years now and death has played a major role in my life since I took on that dreaded marital status. Of course, I had lost people in the past, but no other loss has shaken me to the core of my being like the loss of my true love – least not when I was just 35 years old and only two weeks away from our starting a family through adoption.
And so I admit it: my own bereavement means that I think about death a lot. I don’t think about death with a morbid fascination. I don’t think about death with an idealised understanding of what it is or what it means. And I certainly don’t think about death in terms of speeding mine up!
Instead, I think about the impact that death has had on my life and I worry about the future impact that death will have. (Including my own death, which will certainly have an impact on my life!!) I think about how my husband’s death drastically changed my life. And, sometimes, I worry that the death of my parents will send me into a state of absolute despair, especially as they have become a much more important lifeline for me since my husband died. (Without children of my own, I am quite aware that when they are gone, I will be more alone than ever before, and that frightens me.)
But I digress…
When I arrived at the venue, I was given a warm welcome and invited to sit at one of the tables and offered some tea and cakes. After everyone had arrived, we began our discussion with short introductions and our motivation for attending. I was the last to introduce myself, and I found it a bit more emotional than expected as I acknowledged that a large reason for my attendance was my widowed status. In fact, I got a bit emotional a couple of times during the session. But people were kind and let me have my emotions without (outward or noticeable) judgement. (I did say at the start to just ignore my tears, as that makes them go away faster!)
We talked about a range of death-related subjects over the course of an hour. One woman was very keen to know more about my faith-based belief that I will see my husband again, which I was happy to explain. Someone else questioned my burial plans if I were to remarry*. I was keen to find out how people viewed the changes in public displays of grief over the years, especially in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death. We also talked about final wishes and the importance of telling others what we want (or don’t want) when our time comes and about how we have helped others to cope with loss in the past. I could hear little snippets from a nearby table, where they spoke about a completely different set of death-related topics.
The session itself wasn’t quite what I had envisioned, but you can never know where a conversation will go. And I did gain new insights from the experience, which is what I was hoping for.
There was talk about setting up more Death Café sessions in and around Edinburgh, and I hope that they do. It was a positive experience for me and I would love the opportunity to learn even more about people’s thoughts and views on death.
* I will be cremated and buried with my first husband. Although if I were to remarry, my new husband would have the option of burying part of my ashes elsewhere, so long as the religious requirements I have set are followed. And let’s face it, the odds of me meeting a new love are slim to none. But if I did, I know he would accept this, as I cannot imagine sharing my life, my heart, and my soul with someone who didn’t respect my wishes.