Thursday, 7 March 2013

Reports from the recent Natural Death Centre Cafés

Josefine Speyer from the Natural Death Centre organised 2 Death Cafes in London in February 2013. Here she feeds back...

NDC Death Café, Sunday afternoon on 24th February 2013 Including a showing of ‘Noctuaries’, a documentary film made by Olivia Humphreys

This turned out to be a truly engaging and inspirational occasion for me and judging by the response (average of points given out of ten: 9.5/10) also of those who attended.

Twenty four people had booked and in the event, there were nineteen of us….I provided tea or coffee on arrival (sandwiches and cakes on a side table for later) and the room was soon crowded with everyone standing around engaged in conversation.

I had arranged seating in a large circle which made for a comfortable and inclusive gathering yet not too formal. After welcoming everyone and giving a brief introduction to the idea of Death Café, and introducing Olivia, people spoke to each other in pairs for several minutes about why they had come and what their interest was. The room was buzzing with conversation. Then we had a brief circle of introductions in the whole group which showed the wide range of what had brought people here. The age ranged from early twenties to early eighties with three men and 16 women from a variety of cultural backgrounds. There were students, a social worker, a funeral celebrant, an undertaker and her husband, three film makers (incl. Olivia), a young mother of two who’s own mother had recently died, several artists, an astrologer and two psychotherapists - inclusive of myself.

We watched the very moving film Olivia had made following her mother’s death when she was 16. In the film Olivia interviews her father, her grand parents and her mother’s best friend and also speaks about her own experiences. It was perhaps no coincidence that several people attending this Death Café had also lost a parent at a young age. A young mother of two, whose mother had recently died was too emotional to speak but told me later that she gained a huge amount from coming and hearing people talk about their experiences and being amongst people where death is an acceptable topic for conversation.

Though grief and bereavement were discussed at some length, other topics included: trying to sort out one’s ‘stuff’ in the house, putting one’s affairs in order, considering meaning and what is left behind when we die, so the family will not be over-burdened in the aftermath, aging, and facing one’s mortality consciously, buying a very good mattress ‘to last me for the rest of my days’ and the adult children not wanting to hear of it. People had different views about whether there might be an afterlife or not.

By the end everyone was smiling and those who did not need to rush off hung around filling in feedback sheets and chatting to each other animatedly for another hour whilst some did the washing up and helped clear up, eating more cake and sandwiches. There was a great sense of community and warmth as people continued talking to each other in more depth about some of their experiences and feelings. It is wonderful how a group of strangers can develop such a level of intimacy within no time at all, when talking about death.

A few of the comments from participants:

“A liberating experience. Made me feel free to think and talk about my death and that of others.”

“Wonderful to be in a space where talking about death is encouraged and valued.”

“An exciting, compassionate and welcoming, healing space. A most enlivening afternoon at the marvellous Death Café!”

“ I left the Death Café somewhat lighter and illuminated. The space to share experiences and views relating to death and dying was actually life-affirming. I know that I will experience more grief and sorrow in my life, but knowing there are places like Death Café makes this slightly less daunting. Thank you.”

“I got a huge amount out of it, I really look forward to going to more Death Cafes!”

“I am still buzzing from the cafe! It was such a wonderful experience and I am so grateful for the space you held. It feels good to have contributed. I look forward to the next one.”

3rd Feb 2013 at Heber Road, London NW2 

Hosted and facilitated by Josefine Speyer, filmed by Sophie Marsden for a student project at Bournemouth University.

There were seven participants: four men and three women. Three people had booked but did not attend. Their age range from 20’s – 80’s of various English and European backgrounds.

This was a small group focussing a lot on experiences of funerals, in particular family-organised funerals. An inspirational occasion for everyone judging by the feedback.

Average of points given: 9.7/10!

People said they appreciated:
- Hearing different view points and stories
- Honesty safety flow and depth
- Having the space and respect to share my stories and to learn from interacting and hearing other stories

Some quotes from attendees:

"Thank you, Josefine, for a memorable afternoon - which I thoroughly enjoyed. The content of the meeting was moving. I enjoyed the fact that the age group varied so much, with young people showing interest in talking about death. The discussion was flowing and honest - with laughter and depth.    Above all - you held the event beautifully - creating a safe environment and catering generously."

“10/10. A wonderful eclectic gathering of fascinating people with unique stories to tell – so much unexpected laughter!” More Please”


“I have further had my eyes opened about subjects relating to death I have also had my eyes opened to subjects that are very important to some and less to others.”

“Again a very worthwhile and interesting experience. “

“A beautiful space to explore difficult issues in safety and with respect. “

“Heartwarming, inspiring and life enhancing experience, “

“An opportunity to talk honestly with strangers about what matters. “

“Enriching and good to hear different viewpoints and experiences. “

Verbal comments made at the end:

“It is very liberating to have an open space where people can share and learn from others”

“If your loved ones were able to hear your tributes I feel they would be very moved”

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