Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Death Cafe, by Maxine Linnell

There seem to be loads of books about death around. Or is it me? It wouldn’t be surprising if there were. At one end of the scale there’s all the death and destruction on the news and in games and films. At the other we’ve tried to eliminate death with all our risk assessments and insurances. 

It’s not that I want people to die, except perhaps at the right time for them. But death is a part of life. We can’t get away from it. We can’t hide it in neat boxes. We can't control it. And however powerful we get, whatever our technologies and medicines and targets, it’s not going anywhere. Death is just hanging out waiting for us. 

I’m involved in running a Death Cafe in Leicester in May. Death Cafes are taking off, in Europe and America. We’ve found a place where we can have cake and tea, and talk openly about the biggest taboo, death. There’s no easy answers, no selling anything, no profit-making. 

I’ve had interesting reactions about the Death Cafe, from horror to relief and delight. And the numbers are taking off. So if adults are finding ways of thinking and talking about death, it’s not surprising that younger people want to know what’s going on too. Untimely death has been relatively rare in this generation. When it comes it’s a huge shock, and often we look for someone to blame, or something to block the black hole that let it happen. Death is hard to accept. And it's hard to make sense of now fewer people have religious certainties to lean on. 

There’s nothing morbid about talking about death, or there doesn’t have to be. There’s even a Dying Awareness week, in the middle of May, and this year its logo is 'Be ready for it.' Knowing about death keeps us aware, helps us to treasure our time alive, to follow our dreams while we can. Perhaps it might help us to get over misunderstandings and disagreements, apologise, make up, say what needs to be said. 

You might want to have that conversation with the people you love - the one that starts ‘you know, if something happens to me...’, and ends with you agreeing whether you’d like your organs donated, what kind of funeral you’d like, whether it should be a burial or a cremation. Your family and friends could feel more secure if something should happen, and they’ll know what to do. You won’t end up with unfinished business. And you might all end up laughing together and having a good time, appreciating each other and your own lives. 

It’s never too early to include the whole family, either. The biggest questions begin when we’re young. And I think I need to be sure I'm writing about it too, when it's right.

When was the first death in your family? How did everyone deal with it? How was it for you?


Anonymous said...

It was coming up to my birthday. It was my Nan. My father and two uncles were were staying with her until... yeah. I remember feeling so guilty when she died. I had worked out she needed to die by Monday or my Dad would miss my birthday, and we had always had it a family. She died on Monday. We all knew she was going, but part of me was still shocked I couldn't cry. I still feel partially guilty now, although I guess it was just meant to be. I personaly believe she is still watching, and here, even though I am not religious. It just feels.. right. xxxxx
Anyone else?

Maxine. said...

I like the touch of not wanting it to affect your birthday - that feels like most children would think, and then feel bad about it.

For me, it was my Gran - she was living with us, and the door of her room was suddenly shut very tight. It was daytime and all the curtains in the house were closed. I felt like something very secret was going on. I wasn't allowed to go to her funeral.