The NorthShore Death Café opens a door on THE taboo topic
- by Abegael Fisher-Lang
Curious about a Good Death? Flummoxed by tales of near-death experiences?
Who would think that an agreement to meet with new people and talk only about death would be so enlivening?
“It was so good to speak at such an authentic level”, said Jack. ‘I felt so alive with new thoughts,” responded Lisa. Other participants wrote similar responses: hopeful, magical and illuminating.
The first Death Cafe on the North Shore took place on May 8 at the inviting Casa Nova Cafe in central North Vancouver. Abegael Fisher-Lang and Ann Gillespie welcomed 28 courageous newcomers to an evening of open conversation on death and end of life considerations.
A warm and inviting atmosphere was created through the generosity of owners Javier and Elena. The striking, lush nature table covered in shimmering layers of black bombazine, giant pots of twisted willow branches, piles of dark rose petals, and vases of fragrant lilacs inspired thoughts of another beautiful realm: death.
Elena created a special cake with North Vancouver's own Death Cafe meme which inspired a round of applause from the gathering. Enjoying a rich and delicious piece of cake with good coffee seemed a natural part of talking about death. All part of the feast of life.
Mary Oliver’s stark poem When Death Comes, was spoken to open the evening, After introductions, gratitude was expressed to the two organizers of the sister Vancouver Death Cafe who were in attendance, and the Casa Nova hosts. The objectives and guidelines of the Death Cafe movement, as well as it's origins and growth, were shared in opening remarks.
The group of 29 represented a broad range of ages, professions and interests although not a large cultural diversity. Two journalists (one offering a prospective article in the local paper), several celebrants, grief counsellors, a palliative care nurse. To begin, everyone spoke their name and 2 or 3 words that described their current feeling about death. Some of these were:
- enjoy life now!
- amazing teacher
- not ready
- life-giving , expansive
- curiosity, transition, amazement
For the next part of the evening, participants moved to tables of 4, based on nametag colours, for a more in-depth conversation. Some groups considered the question, "What brought you here tonight", while others spoke more deeply about their experience with death. Conversation starter cards with interesting quotes were offered as leading thoughts.
The dialogue took a different path at each table, from: what makes a good death; how dying is portrayed in film, especially in the recent Amour; the consequences of not talking about death; not knowing how to grieve; the pressure to "just move on".
A Celebrant spoke about traditional rituals to honour death. The discussion touched on home funerals and ecological alternatives to regular burial, such as the ‘mushroom suit’ that helps to decompose and compost the body. There was reflection on the idea that we are eternal energy and there is no death. Other groups reported a wonderful connection, as if there had been some mysterious plan that brought them together; these groups enjoyed an easy sharing of personal stories, and were dismayed when the evening had to close.
Almost every cafe participant completed an evaluation. Although the evening didn't necessarily change the way people thought about death, many found that they gained new insights, hoped to attend again or planned to recommend the event to their friends.
A final phrase to describe the evening: reaffirming life!
The next NorthShore Death Cafe will take place on Wednesday June 26 at the same location, Casa Nova Café, 116 E. 14th St., North Vancouver. To register, see firstname.lastname@example.org
Abegael Fisher-Lang - Life Threads Ceremonies
Ann Gillespie - A Perfect Ending