Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Report back from Death Café in Oxford with Josefine Speyer

Monday 13 May 2013, 6.30pm – 8.30pm
ALBION BEATNIK BOOKSTORE, 34 Walton Street, Oxford OX2

with Josefine Speyer

We had a very enjoyable Death Cafe gathering at Dennis's Albion Beatnik Bookstore. A big Thank You to Dennis for hosting us! Sitting around small coffee tables in the shop window, surrounded by books piled high. A really beautiful little place. Reminding of Harry Potter or days gone by. A really intimate and delightful venue for this Death Café.

A small group of eight people attended. Not all who booked were able to come and others joined us without booking, so it worked out really well in the end. It was a diverse and friendly group of people ranging from aged 20's - 76!

This Death Café happened to take place during Dying Matters Awareness Week and several Death Cafes were held in Oxford and in the area during that week! It is wonderful to see how Death Cafes are springing up everywhere. One of the members of our group held a Death Café later in the week with the OxBel (www.oxbel.org.uk) a befriending service for people with life-threatening illnesses, a charity I helped set up with Diana Senior in the 1990’s.

Our little group had a nearly even number of men and women, which is an achievement. There seems to be much more willingness nowadays for men to speak about personal experiences, thoughts and belief around dying. In the 1990s relatively few men would join a conversation about death. After the general welcome and introduction I asked that we all introduce ourselves, saying a little about ourselves and why we were interested to come to the Death Café. People wanted to stay in the whole group and not speak in pairs. So we had a large circle of introductions and from there a conversation developed when people spoke in more depth about their concerns.

One topic was the difficulty of having a conversation about death within the family, where people held different attitudes and showed no interest in discussing their views or saying more about why they thought the way
they did. Everyone in the group was eager to address the subject. Another topic was funerals and people’s views of these and their different experiences and ideas. The issue of suicide was brought up and how to be present with someone who is suicidal.

The evening was over far too quickly.  As always there was a feeling of warmth, humour and openness amongst the group. Strangers had come together and shared some intimate and moving stories with each other.

Dennis, the bookstore owner was a gentle presence in the background and supplied us with delicious tea and cake. He is kindly offering to have us back for another Death Café in the future. I am keen!

Here is some of the feedback:
Happy & Interesting! Wishing for more time. A day maybe?  57, female, health care writer & editor
Thought provoking. Well conducted. Honesty & humour. 65, male, writer
I really enjoyed the evening and thought you handled it so well, giving everyone time and honesty. Thanks for allowing me just to be there. I needed it then. 69, female, retired from working with, gypsies & travellers in Oxfordshire.


  1. Dear Josefine Speyer,

    Please accept my apology for being so very late in giving any feedback on your Death Café in Oxford. I have at least been thinking about it.

    It was very good to meet you after reading so much material from the Natural Death Centre.

    I have been a little uncertain of the Death Café concept. I connected with their website, but did not follow through with starting any event myself. After years as a group therapist I wanted to avoid being pulled back into anything resembling that kind of role.

    Instead I organized a little group meeting at the Albion Beetnik for people who wanted to create art and literature around death. (I had launched my book, “A Journey Through Grief” at the Albion in the summer with the support of people from Dying Matters, and they had prompted me to follow up this with a regular meeting around death at the book store.)

    We held one meeting with four people attending, which seemed to go very well. People said they felt great at the end of it. But no one came to the next meeting. I decided to drop it for the time being.

    I was curious how much control you had around membership of the event. It seemed a bit like a closed group. But when people on the list did not come and people not on the list did come, the thing was more as I might have expected it to be.

    I appreciated the sensitive way you ran the event. People were all able to contribute.

    I found some of the ideas shared to be novel and interesting. The idea of a funeral before the person dies has made me think about additions to my website www.alifeworthcelebrating.org.uk as well as changes to my new little book about counselling for end of life, which has been printed as a course by the BSY group.

    I thought the Death café event worked quite well in practice under your guidance. It was therapeutic to discuss difficult ideas without falling into it being therapy. But as Ronnie Laing once said “Therapy is life: life is therapy”.

    I would happily attend another Death Café in oxford if you want to run one. I would also consider running one myself, if you are too busy.

  2. Hi Nick, Thanks for sending this!
    I am pleased you enjoyed the evening and are interested in more Death Cafes. I thought it would be great if we could host one together? Another Albion Beatnik Bookstore Death Cafe? Apparently it can accommodate up to 20 people. I am game!

    Regarding what you say about my 'control' around membership of the event. I ask people to let me know they want to attend to have an idea of numbers. I also ask them to tell me a little about themselves, so I have a sense of the group. But it is not a closed group. I think people appreciate it.


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