Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Write up of Death cafe Hemel Hempstead on Sunday 7th April with Catherina Petit-van Hoey

Talking Death on a Sunny Sunday Afternoon –
a Life Affirming Experience.


Some purple balloons on a silver birch tree marked the location of the first Death Café in Hemel Hempstead. Audrey, my friend, had offered her house and baking skills to hold this Death Café, after we had together visited a Café in London last November.

I only advertised this Death Café through the websites of the Natural Death Centre and the Death Café and further through Facebook, a local school's newsletter and word of mouth and I was overwhelmed with the response.
I was originally thinking of contacting the local newspapers and putting posters up at our local hospice, libraries and GP surgeries, but I am now glad I didn't because we already had to put people on a waiting list as we only had places for 12 people.

Still, after a few last minute cancellations we ended up with 11 people in total, between the age of 20 and 85. All women!!! So I do wonder about the men, was it to do with the way I had advertised?

After going around the table, introducing ourselves and sharing the reasons of why we were attracted to come to a Death Café, the conversations started to flow naturally. One of the subjects which came up was 'death and children'. Some people did experience, as a child, the loss of a loved one and were withheld from attending the funeral out of a sense of protection, whilst others felt it was important and natural for children to learn to deal with death. It's clear that the way in which we as adults deal with death has major implications in how our children will deal with it. Avoidance, fear and other unhealthy attitudes can cause lasting traumatic experiences, well into adult life.

Another subject which was touched upon was the fear for dying and for some the lack of fear. Coming to a Death Café was a first step for some into confronting that fear. Talking about it and listening to other people's way of life opened up some new perspectives. For example several of us, including myself, find great benefit in the regular practise of meditation. Meditation can be experienced as a practise of 'dying', whilst being alive. It is a process of 'letting go', acceptance and  'living in the moment'. It's also a way of getting deeper insights and discovering more about yourself. 

What we can do to better prepare ourselves for our own death and/or funeral was another subject, which came up. It included practical things for some, like making a 'living will', buying a Natural Burial plot and pre-arranging ones own funeral. Impartial information and education are much needed resources here. As a member of the Society of the Natural Death Centre I had a copy of the NDC Handbook with me and some leaflets, referring to the wealth of information available on the website of the Natural Death Centre.

The time went very quickly and we all felt that we could go on for longer, as there is so much to talk about and we had only just scratched the surface. One woman had brought her guitar. She played us the beautiful thoughtful song of  'Motherland' by Natalie Merchant. It was a lovely way to end the Death Café.

Most people filled in a feedback form before they left, here are some of their comments:

“A gentle and interesting environment to grow in our understanding and views of death and a way to reduce our fears.”

“Healing and Nourishing.”

“Just very impressed at people's honesty and ability to share.”

“Reassuring, interesting, touching. I feel a door has been opened. Thank you so much for your courage and generosity.”

“Positive experience, first time can openly and honestly express my thoughts.”

“Heart warming and interesting to hear views of other people.”

Sitting around the beautifully laid out table with vintage plates and fresh flowers, talking and sharing our personal thoughts and feelings, whilst enjoying drinks and eating Audrey's lovely cakes and warm baked scones with butter, jam and cream was a wonderful way of spending a Sunday afternoon. It's surprising how a group of people, who didn't all know each other, can create in such a short time an atmosphere of openness, respect and warmth towards each other. It's a beautiful expression of what we as humans are capable of and a truly uplifting and life-affirming experience.

I am looking forward to organising the next Death Café.
Catherina Petit-van Hoey

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