This post is reproduced with permission from Jayd Kent’s One Queer Femme Anatomy blog. It describes the first-ever pop-up death cafe, the brainchild of Jon Underwood, curator of the Death Cafe blog and one of the nicest and, underneath that, brainiest people you could meet. A death cafe is long-held dream of John. How marvellous to see it take flight.
I attended something called a ‘Death Cafe’ today.
I was terrified at the concept of sitting in a room, with a random group of people I had never met, to talk about the one thing that terrifies me more than anything in the world – DEATH. I had been worrying about it quietly all week.
A little background before I tell you of my experience –
I have always had an innate fear (and nobody really knows this) of dying. I have ‘visions’ every day, sometimes multiple ones in any given day, of my own death. They are often violent and abrupt, and I keep this to myself for fear of being judged a madman – so now I am coming out. I have had them for years, the first one I recall when I was only 13 in a Graphics Class at School – of a man breaking in and stabbing me. They are often horrific accidents where I witness my own death, and sometimes take me out of ‘real space’ for a few moments, to which I then return and try and sweep it under the carpet. In times of stress they worsen and become more frequent, and when I’m happy and life is plentiful they become less so. But they are ALWAYS there. Constantly reminding me of my mortality and fucking with my head.
So, I had a wonderful whipping and sensory session with my good friend Faerie one time recently, and we were talking about my persistent coughing, to which he thought it could be a nervous cough due to underlying anxiety issues. When he asked me if I had any I could think of, I took a leap of faith and told him about my ‘visions’, and he told me about the ‘Death Cafe’.
I spoke to a delightful man via email who had organised it, and he reassured me that I had nothing to be scared of, and gave me the details of the venue. It was in somebodys house this time, being the first one of its kind in the UK, with a hope of getting a venue in future. The offer of tea and cake was there too, which made it hard to refuse. I decided I would go, although I was still terrified of what would come out that day.
Upon nearly getting lost on the way there, I came across a beautiful road tucked down the side of Hackney. It was lovely sunny and warm, so I had enjoyed the cycle there from mine – and decided it was a gorgeous day to talk about death in this contrast in the weather.
I was welcomed by the host, and we all introduced ourselves. Everybody seemed very outgoing and friendly, which comforted me, as well as the fact one of my friends was there – the very same close friend who had suggested I go in the first place. God, I needed that hug when I saw him.
So, we were ushered into a vintage dining room with wooden floorboards, to a wonderfully presented table with plates and such laid out. Then, the conversation began. Before I even had time to let it sink in, I had started to well up. That’s what’s so bizarre about my relationship with death – I’m so scared of it, I can’t even think about it without being reduced to tears, so sitting here with all these people openly chatting about their past experiences with it made me instantly emotional. It’s not something I have ever been open about before either – something came up in discussion about how our British Society has quite a stiff upper lip regarding this subject, and talking about it upsets others so we should just shut up.
There were times where I felt like I was going to walk out before it was even my turn to speak.
Then it came to my turn – and why I was here. I told the group of 7 or so about my ‘visions’ – the moment I had done, I broke down. It felt awful, and I carried on talking through my tears, telling of not wanting sympathy because it was something I couldnt control, and warned of possible further outbursts later on in the session – my coping mechanism of trying to declare my problems are tiny in comparison. But this was a place where people questioned me instead of making me feel like I couldnt talk about it, they were drawing it out of me instead- bringing more of the food for thought to the table. I learned ALOT about myself, and here are some of the key points, which could be life changing to me.
Q.) How do I deal with scary death-like situations in real life?
A.) I take control, and deal with them head on. Like when Fiona (my mother) got liver cancer, and I held everyone together and became the driving force the day she had her liver transplant, or the time my house caught fire and nearly killed me and my gf when we were 19 and I just woke up and sorted it out and put the fire out, without thinking about it.
Q.) Do I have any phobias?
A.) Yes, I have a phobia of shock tactics on TV and in real life.
(To which somebody pointed out my phobia sounds the same as my visions, and perhaps it’s connected to my phobia of shock rather than my fear of death?)
These two revelations on their own were INCREDIBLY helpful, and I have got more from this one session talking to some amazing people, than I would have ever got out of say, a counselling session.
At the end of the session, we changed the subject to what we said we had achieved in life, what our obstacles were – this was kind of intended to be said on our deathbed so to speak.
It was so freeing to tell a group of strangers my life story, my achievements, hear theirs, and all share praise and thanks. We were then asked to place all the obstacles into an envelope, along with some of the fears of death we had written on pieces of card earlier, and they were ritually burned in a ceremony accompanied by some beautiful chanting melodies. We watched everything burn in that fireplace in silence, until there was nothing left. I cried quietly to myself, hoping nobody had noticed. I felt such a symbolic sense of relief watching those 15 years of fear go up in flames.
And then I ate cake afterwards, with a cup of tea to ground myself.
I can’t tell you how much this has helped me, and I feel compelled to sit here on my computer the moment I have cycled home and write down the whole experience, so I will never forget it, and never forget what those kind people have said, and try to not forget their faces on a day that will sit with me for years to come.
Perhaps the memorable day that I changed, and started on my path to ‘letting go’.
Faerie can be reached at his website
and The Death Cafe can be found at