Monday, 8 July 2013

Report back from Death Café in Hampstead, London

The Death Café held 17 June 2013 at Café Rouge, Hampstead, London
By Josefine Speyer

Welcome to this third Death Café at Café Rouge in Hampstead which featured the poet Dr. Mike Galsworthy MD. 20 attended and the age group ranged from 32 to 69 most coming for the first time. Men were outnumbered by 6:1.

After everyone had arrived and settled down with some food and drink, Mike started us off with one of his poems about fearing his children dying; a moving reminder that fearing the loss of people close to us is a universal theme. I invited everyone to introduce themselves and to say what made them decide to come to this Death Café. Speaking of their personal experience and thoughts took everyone to the heart of the matter. From here the conversation evolved and after 45 minutes we took a break.

We congregated around three tables: one large, one medium and one small. In a large group like this I think it is best to leave people to decide whether they want to join a small table where they can speak more intimately or if they prefer a bigger table. But in future I will make a point of facilitating the large table and I will provide everyone with a pep talk about how to facilitate the conversation around their smaller tables themselves and to change tables in the second half if they want.

In the second half of the evening I asked everyone to consider for themselves, what they thought of as their ideal death - and then asked them to join up with a partner to talk about this. The room soon hummed with animated and prolonged conversation. Later than planned, we returned to our tables to reflect and build on the ideas generated. At the medium-sized table I had joined, some people had realised that there were practical steps that needed to be taken to put into place the possibility of having their ideal death. I reminded everyone that the qualities they were describing as part of their ideal death were important to them and something they wanted in their lives now. It brought the focus down to how we live now. I saw a visual transformation in one person in particular who sat opposite me; she looked elated, her face flushed with excitement and very happy, smiling and laughing and her eyes twinkling. She had started the evening with a somewhat stressed expression and critical attitude. She was not the only one feeling this way. But the conversations had brought everyone closer together; there was a real sense of emotional warmth, kindness, acceptance, with a deep regard for difference of people’s individual situation. I too was enjoying this delightful atmosphere which I am very familiar with - talking about death in this way has the habit of being very life-affirming and enlivening. I enjoyed the transformation in the person sitting opposite me all the more as she was a trained medical doctor. Doctors can have a habit of not considering their own feelings around dying or death and what their needs and wishes might be.

After a closing round I put my donation box on the table and distributed feedback sheets for everyone to fill in. Mike gave us a poem to round the evening off. It was a poignant story about time running out and the ever certain movement towards transformation, change, loss and death as part of the greater cycles of life.

Looking at people’s feedback afterwards it confirmed my general sense of it having been a successful evening which had provided people with the opportunity to speak about an important subject whilst experiencing a great sense of respect and mutual caring and regard which they deeply appreciated.

Many people particularly enjoyed the exercise of talking one-to-one and the fact that this brought a focus to the conversation and deepened it. By the end people left feeling animated and enlivened, they were laughing and talking. Some stayed on to chat. It was joyful! The evening was a great pleasure. Thank you Mike for your poetry!

How did you hear of this event:

A friend: 3x, Radio 4: 2x, Josefine: 8x, Work interest: 2x, Website: 2x, Twitter & Dying Matters :1x.

4 psychotherapists, 3 charity directors/managers, 2 life coaches, 2 retired people incl. a retired financial advisor, 1 cranial sacral therapist, 1 University professor, 1 jewellery designer, 1 freelance creative, 1 milliner, 1 scientist, 1 semi-retired person.

Average age: 54

Sex: 18 women; 3 men (6:1)

Overall rating of event: 9.1

Venue rating: 9

Food & drink rating: 8.2

Facilitation rating: 9

What did you appreciate about the event:

• I found it liberating and enlightening in a manner I had not anticipated. The opportunity to talk with others and begin to appreciate others perspective has been invaluable.

• Talking about the topic of death with like-minded and sympathetic people.

• I liked the informal-ness, the sharing in pairs, the range of ages.

• Sharing ideas about one’s own death and talking of one’s experiences.

• One-to-one conversations.

• Sense of being yourself and listen to other people. Thinking/talking through issues. – eg. Your own death that otherwise would probably not, I never have before.

• Listening to other people’s stories.

• The opportunity to speak to others so frankly and openly who were also very interested in the topic. The chance to hear other’s experience and take something from having resonance.

• Sharing with others so openly.

• Friendliness and openness.

• The casual exchange of ideas and the friendly engagement of the group.

• Met some very interesting people.

• The chance to speak freely about all aspects of death with new people.

• As always, inspiring. Loved that there are always newcomers. Fabulous conversation.

• Openness, lightness, contained and safe, structured.

Any aspect you were dissatisfied with or uncomfortable with?
• I felt unclear about how to progress the intimate conversations that had begun and would have liked to know a second meeting had been planned.

• Not really – but would have been nicer to talk to more people than the immediate table.

• The only thing was that some people around the table who talked more didn’t leave space for those who didn’t push themselves forward. I would have preferred a facilitation around our table so that everyone was encouraged or had a chance to be heard.

• Perhaps a bit more direction in the conversation – Perhaps a set of questions to start and to arrive at in the middle.

How would you describe your experience in a sentence or two?

• Positive

• I really enjoyed meeting interesting and stimulating women at my table.

• It has prompted me to be clearer really about how I want to be when I’m dying and who and what I want around me. Also make some lists/info to assist those handling my affairs after I die. I’m starting a box of all this – of the dying wishes, the funeral and after.

• Definitely enriching - the beginning of a journey.

• Opened a new way of thinking for me.

• Liberating & enlightening. Feeling of gratitude for space to talk & to having heard the experiences of others.

• It was full of warmth and tenderness.

• Very enjoyable, amazingly.

• Very good. I felt very happy at the end.

• Good to be able to talk about this subject freely.

• Lovely reflective moment in conversation. Thoughtful exchange of ideas.

• We spent most of the time talking about our lives.

• Liberating and informative.

• I love the fact that we can come together and talk about death openly.

• Interesting and satisfying and an opportunity to share.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jon, thanks for this info and also all the background on the work you're doing. I'm interested in setting up a Cafe in Milton Keynes. I'll email you direct. Thanks



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