‘Let’s talk about death’ - First meeting of mortality themed cafe group set to take place in Stevenage
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Do you agree that we don’t spend enough time talking about death? Well you might do worse than head along to Stevenage’s first Death Cafe event on Monday.
The worldwide Death Cafe movement started in Hampstead eight years ago with the aim of giving people other than doctors and undertakers the chance to chat frankly about our fears and expectation of meeting the reaper.
Facilitator Carol Bush, who has been involved in setting up the Stevenage cafe, said: “Although death is around us, every day, we behave as if it isn’t and as a society we don’t talk about it. It’s as if it happens off stage, in a Greek drama, to be referred to only in euphemisms.
“Even in hospital – which, increasingly, is where we die – there can be a reluctance to discuss death. I remember reading something from a lecturer in palliative care at the University of Bradford, who said: ‘If you’re dying, they move you to a second room. When a porter is called to take a body to the mortuary, they’re told over the phone there’s a patient for Rose Cottage’.”
It is this kind of death denial that inspired Jon Underwood to create Death Cafe in 2011, based on the Swiss Cafe Mortel movement.
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As he saw it, western society had out-sourced discussions about death to doctors, nurses, priests and undertakers. The result, says Jon, is that we have lost control of one of the most significant events we ever have to face.
He suggested to various cafes in east London his idea of setting up a place to go and talk about death, but there were no takers. So the first death cafe in the UK was in Jon’s own house in Hackney and was run by his mother, Sue Barsky Reid, a psychotherapist.
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Since then Death Cafe has spread, like a franchise, all around the world. The premise is simple: people go along, drink tea, eat cake and discuss death: not to be morbid, just to raise awareness and to ‘help people make the most of their finite lives’.
Several of the Stevenage members were part of a group that ran in Hitchin very successfully for two years until they lost their premises and Salli, their inspirational facilitator, moved on with her busy life.
New facilitator Carol added: “We have very wide-ranging discussions about death – sometimes deeply philosophical, sometimes very funny, but always interesting. We’ve given ourselves permission to ‘think the unthinkable and say the unsayeable’. We’re very clear that this is not a bereavement support group, or a therapy group, but a discussion group, open to everyone. We do ask, though, that anyone interested in joining us should contact us first, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Although there is no charge, we do welcome donations towards the cost of the premises.”
Stevenage Death Cafe meets at Friends Meeting House, 29 Cuttys Lane, at 7pm on the last Monday of each month. The first session is on Monday.