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What the heck is a Death Café?

Have you ever seen posters for a local Death Café? I’ve been seeing them for a few years and kept meaning to go along, but they used to take place in Ringmer, at times that were difficult if you work full time (or that was my excuse).

Then I noticed one was happening in the John Harvey Tavern early one weekday evening and decided to give it a go. I had no idea what to expect and I was a bit nervous.

I arrived, bought myself a drink at the bar (the pub were kind enough to let us use the space upstairs, so we were encouraged to buy drinks to thank the pub) then headed upstairs.

The Death Café is a not-for-profit worldwide project, set up in 2010 by Jon Underwood. There are no ‘staff’ – all local events are hosted by volunteers. Death Cafés are based on the idea of a Swiss man Bernard Crettaz. He was interested in improving funerals, then when his wife died in 1999, he realised he wanted to talk about that, and started to host ‘Café Mortal’ events in a bistro in Geneva.

The Death Cafe website says:

‘At a Death Cafe, people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death.

Our objective is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.

A Death Café 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.

– On a not for profit basis

Death Cafés are always offered:

– In an accessible, respectful and confidential space

– With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action’

The Lewes Death Café currently takes place roughly every two months.

There were a mix of men and women of a variety of ages. Some had been before and a few, like me, hadn’t. Confidentiality was stressed, as was the fact that it is not a therapy group.

We introduced ourselves. Then we wrote down a statement or question about death that interested us. Then we put these in the middle of the table and took turns to read a random one out, which was then discussed.

It was fascinating and enlightening. I’d say we were all coming from a slightly different place, but I would also say, we wouldn’t have been there if we hadn’t lost someone or had a close brush with death.

It felt refreshing to be able to talk about issues and air thoughts about death and dying freely. Ours is not a society where that happens often, which is why events like this can be so helpful to anyone.

After about an hour, we stopped for a refreshment break, then gathered as a whole group to discuss how it had gone, and what people might like going forward.

I plan to go back.

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