Maybe so, but curiosity is also what brings together groups of strangers to the Death Café to talk about a sensitive — and often taboo — subject over cake and coffee.
Moderated by Kit Racette, an alternative therapist and grief counsellor, the local versions of this worldwide trend are attracting dozens of people to a relaxing, neutral space to begin a conversation about death. It is not grief counselling; it is an exploration and open discussion about a topic few like to address: what it means to die, why death is frightening and how death can effect how we live.
Death Café is part of a project called Impermanence started by Jon Underwood in the United Kingdom, and is modelled on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist who wrote the book Cafés mortels: Sortir la mort du silence (bringing death out of silence). There have been more than 720 Death Cafés since 2011 in Europe, North America and Australasia.
In Montreal, Racette, 68, stumbled upon the Facebook page of the Death Café. The notion of holding open discussions about death resonated within her and she held her first Death Café in October 2013. Participants have ranged from mediums and palliative care workers to ordinary Janes and Joes trying to understand death.
Racette’s interest in thanatology (the scientific study of death) began in 2007 with the prescription drug overdose of her 40-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
Racette said she felt a deep anger directed at her daughter as part of her grieving process. It took her more than a year and the writing of the book Elizabeth, Where Are You? for her to come to terms with the loss. By the end of it all, the process of accepting death changed the way Racette views — and lives — her life.
“It is the importance of us realizing that we are going to die, and if we take that in, how will it change our lives? The death of my daughter has led me to be more honest with people; I tolerate trivialities a lot less. I want to tell people how I feel about them, that I love them, and frequently. It’s about not dying with regret.”
Linda, 60, has attended two Death Cafés. Retired from her administrative job at Concordia University, she is a volunteer at the West Island Palliative Care Residence where she lends support to the dying and their families. Death and illness have long been a part of Linda’s life: Her brother was murdered in 1990, her mother had cancer and was in palliative care and her father had multiple sclerosis.
She said she had no idea what to expect at the Death Café. The first one had 12 people — two of whom were mediums — and was more of a conversation, “very peaceful, as if people wanted to connect together.”
The second time, there were 18 in the group and it was more interactive. Linda said when it was over, the atmosphere in the room had shifted.
“I felt a positive feeling, a good energy. It wasn’t sad; it was even uplifting. It kind of helps you to unblock things, to be less afraid.”
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