Celebrant and guest blogger Wendy Coulton visits a Death Cafe
Curiosity and a genuine interest in the concept prompted me to drive a five hour round trip on a wet Sunday to attend a Death Café in Bristol. The setting was the basement of an informal vintage styled tea shop and as people descended the steps and made polite introductions, it had all the makings of some underground subversive meeting away from the scrutiny of the authorities or those who would not approve. But within minutes there was a pleasant friendly exchange of conversation between strangers who were relieved like me that so many (over 24) people turned up!
We began with some basic housekeeping rules so that it was understood this was not a counselling or grief support group and that we would respect confidentiality around personal details from what is said during the Death Café session. We briefly heard about the Swiss origin of the Death Cafes as a convivial setting (cue cakes) where matters related to the D word could be openly discussed without prejudice or judgement. Leo – who ‘facilitated’ in a loose sense – helpfully provided some questions to kick off the chat but there was no awkward pauses in the group I joined. We split into groups of about five and about 45 minutes later we came together to hear pithy highlights of what issues and topics were discussed.
Before the Death Café I thought it was a selfless act for me to leave clear instructions on what I wanted for my own funeral so my daughter didn’t have to second guess or worry about ‘getting it wrong’ but when I drove home I mulled over the insightful views of those I had the pleasure of meeting and shifted my view. What hadn’t occurred to me was that by doing that I would deny my daughter a chance to express what my daughter wanted to do in her own way to say farewell and pay her respects. And actually why should I care – I will be dead – and therefore did that make me just controlling and that any decisions or discussion should be with my daughter about what she might find comforting when that time comes? So I intend to have the chat (with more cake) with my daughter so that she knows what I feel strongly about but also that she has freedom of expression too when she has to make arrangements for my funeral.