The death café

This week I was going to write about grief, something we will all experience at some stage in our lives, but for which we cannot prepare. I was going to mention our cats again, because the reason we came to have them is associated with grief following their owner’s sudden death.

However, it seems more appropriate now to talk about corgis. I am sure we were all shocked to hear of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, early on Friday morning New Zealand time. Although we had been aware that she was experiencing mobility issues and was looking frail, there was no sign of weakness in the pictures we saw of her recent meeting with Lizz Truss. It is a truth that we may know that someone is aging, or unwell. We may even be expecting their imminent death. However, when it actually happens, we experience their death in a final, often unexpected, way.

At the moment we are surrounded by the outpouring of grief from across the world at the loss of our Queen. We are able to hear our own sentiments expressed by others and be reminded of our memories from old newsreels. We can share our feelings with many around us, because we are all experiencing this death.

Unfortunately, there are many people in our world who suffer deep loneliness as they grieve for their loved one. For many reasons, not least of which is the Covid pandemic, grief and death seem to have become something that happens in hospitals and behind closed doors. A death, a funeral and carry on. But for those who have lost a partner, a parent, a child, a sibling, or a dear friend, life has changed completely. Their loved one has left a chasm that aches and cannot be filled.

And this is where Death Café comes in. It is a deliberately provocative name, to confront the way our culture avoids acknowledging the reality of death. At a Death Café people gather to share hospitality and discuss death. The objective is to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.

A Death Cafe is a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session. Participation in Death Café can provide the company of others whose current experience is similar. I well remember the chap who said that Death Café provided an outlet for him to share his grief at the loss of his wife 11 years earlier; grief that he had nowhere else to express. “You can’t share this in the pub with your mates,” he said.

Death Cafes are not for profit and held with no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action. A new Death Café will be started at Te Awamutu on September 27, 10am start, St John’s lounge. All welcome.

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