When reading a quote by the author Dau Voire, “Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters”, I was inspired to consider opening the death conversation in my community.

Death Café

I founded the Death Café Queensland, Australian movement in 2013, with my co-facilitator Neil Davis, a Funeral Director, with Simplicity Funerals. Since that time we have held many sessions in South East Queensland.  Our home page is www.facebook.com/deathcafequeensland

Before describing our experiences below, I need to pay respect to the international founders and tell you the foundation of the concept. What is a Death Café? At Death Cafes people drink tea/coffee, eat cake and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives. History: Death Café was founded by Jon Underwood based on the work of Bernard Crettaz. The Death Café movement (www.deathcafe.com) is a social franchise conceived by a Swiss sociologist, Bernard Crettaz. The first Death Cafes were held in 2004. One of Bernard Crettaz’s reflections on the Death Café is beautifully stated in this quote,

I am never so in tune with the truth as during one of these soirées. And I have the impression that the assembled company, for a moment, and thanks to death, is born into authenticity.”

In 2011 Jon Underwood (now unfortunately deceased) from the United Kingdom founded the international movement of Death Cafes.

Our principles are that Death Cafes are always offered:

  • With no intention of leading participants to any conclusion, product or course of action.
  • As an open, respectful and confidential space where people can express their views safely.
  • On a not for profit basis.
  • Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!

Our experiences
I think what amazed Neil and I was the honesty of people.  That they felt supported to speak honestly about death, and they trusted the people in the room with their private thoughts and sometimes angst. We have felt truly blessed to have met some wonderful people, who we probably may have never seen in our professional and community lives. People who attend come from all walks of life, and represent all parts of a local community’s makeup.

The collective wisdom that inhabits all Death Cafes is a breath of fresh air, and people are so generous in their sharing.  We have met many professional in the areas of health, palliative care, chaplaincy, ministers and humanists, musicians, visual artists, media artists, academia, who have all been willing to network and shared their ideas and knowledge.  This wonderful element is something neither Neil nor I predicted. For instance when we asked a palliative care nurse what she was seeking from the Death Café experience, she wanted to know at what level the general public knew anything about the dying process.  She commented she believed it was very low in her experience, and she wondered if we could encourage the public education.

Let’s Talk about Death

When reading a quote by the author Dau Voire, “Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters”, I was inspired to consider opening the death conversation in my community.

In my work, it became very obvious that the subject of death was a taboo topic of conversation.  I pondered why our community members were avoiding the inevitable and natural part of our humanity.  I have personally witnessed that when people have the courage to discuss a taboo topic like death or grief they seem to be better prepared for their own journey, and enjoy their life more fully.  It is on this philosophy that I found a newer meaning for my own work.

When loved ones and their families talk about end of life decisions, they partake in a courageous conversation. It takes great courage for anyone to live their life fully and with honesty, we can all envisage those potential rewards.  Maya Angelou speaks beautifully of this excellent quality when she says, “Courage: The most important of all virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

If loved ones can have a courageous conversation about end of life decisions, then the family can handle that care with a profound sense of peace and understanding.

So, my first task was to design a small talk called “Let’s Talk about Death” ™ to open the conversation with people.

When giving these presentations in the community or at service clubs, I was reminded that people can be liberated if they have information. These sessions on death education seem to be a mixture of myth busting and of people genuinely wanting to learn “what to say”.  Whether the person is with a loved one at the time of their death, or wanting to be a loyal friend to a work colleague whose baby has died, the sessions all take on a life of their own.  It is an honour to facilitate the sessions, offer my knowledge and love, and learn wisdom from others.

One of the most frequent questions in these sessions was – “If I start talking about death, with my loved one who is dying, isn’t that distressing for us all.”  When people don’t know what to say, or how to talk about death, it then becomes the elephant in the room.  Some people reported they had no familiarity with death, and relied on a “Hollywood” version of a good death.  They also expressed that they were not aware of how challenging and emotionally intensive it would be.

For the person who is dying it can give them the open opportunity to have conversations that they so desperately want.  To put at rest what is on their minds; or for them to partake in plans; and for them to feel reassured that their loved ones will be care for when they have died.  Without doubt, talking to a dying person can be difficult, but it can also be restorative.  Knowing what your loved one’s wishes are is important and loving, and can give comfort to the newly bereaved person knowing that they honoured those wishes.