Death - the final taboo?
A recent survey by the charity Dying Matters reveals that more than 70% of us are uncomfortable talking about death and that less than a third of us have spoken to family members about end-of-life wishes. In our increasing secular society, we view death as an inconvenience, something to be swept under the carpet. Fewer of us belong to an organised religious group, perhaps because regular church attendance is a constant reminder of our own mortality.
Death Café is a growing international movement, trying to encourage more open discussion of death and facing up to death, without fear and importantly"make the most of our (finite) lives".
"We drink tea, eat cake and discuss death".
Death Cafe is based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist, who was interested in the rites and customs surrounding funerals. He set up Cafes Mortels in Paris in 1999, to encourage more frank and open discussion about death. A decade later, Jon Underwood, who lives in Hackney read about the movement in The Independent and set up the first UK Death café in London in September 2011. To quote from the Independent article "The concept, although a little morbid, is straightforward enough – a dozen strangers meet to have a drink and talk about death for a couple of hours.
Morbid? Just another bereavement counselling session? Apparently not, according to a Independent journalist who went along to a recent Death Cafe held in London, "I was surprised to discover that the gathering of goths, emos and the terminally ill that I'd imagined, turned out to be a collection of fascinating, normal individuals united by a wish to discuss mortality... "they just want to meet up and talk about something which, let's face it, will happen to us all".
Jon Underwood, writes on his own website "My experience tells me that death can play a role in helping us enjoy life. I also believe that focusing on death can play a part in helping us get to grips with some big challenges - like supporting older people, climate change, a broken economic system and chronic global inequality. This may not immediately make sense but if we can face up to death we can face up to anything, no?"
There are now reported to be over 200 Death Cafes in various parts of the world, attended by several thousand people and the site provides guidance on running a Death Café..deathcafe.com
The Death Cafe has a Facebook page, with a gallery full of images, which reflect our current attitudes to dying; some of them will raise a smile, some are life affirming; few are morbid. Here is a small section
Dying Matters.Org. set up by The National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) "to change public knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards dying, death and bereavement and has lots of useful advice on end of life.
Whilst the Death Café movement hasn't yet reached Enfield, Forty Hall is hosting a talk by medical anthropologist Natalie Tobert on October 16th (8.30pm) exploring how attitudes to death have changed from the 17th century to the present day. Booking is essential. More details here
If you are around Winchmore Hill during October and November, have a look at the Guy Fawkes coffin in the window of Harrisons Funeral Home.
It may not be to everyone's taste, but it is not intended to cause offence, but is another innovative attempt to encourage people to talk about death and to share their wishes with their loved ones.
According to Madeline Antoniazzi, who manages Harrisons Funerals on The Broadway, this is a coffin for Guy Fawkes, who never had his own coffin.
"Guy Fawkes didn't have a coffin to lie in and he was neither buried nor cremated but scattered about for birds and wild animals to devour. Although I am sure if he had succeeded in his plot he would have been blown to smithereens in any case.
Nowadays you can plan your own funeral, design your own coffin to reflect your life and personality and if you wish to be cremated there are so many options available for the final resting place of your ashes, other than being scattered by a rose tree in a local crematorium's rose garden. Your ashes can be made into diamonds and encased in jewellery for your loved ones to wear and feel close to you, or they can be sent into the sky via a rocket and last I heard even into outer space, or mixed into paint for a commissioned picture, the options and choices available to you nowadays are endless and most importantly pre arranging your funeral not only saves you money, it gives you piece of mind and saves your loved ones from second guessing what they think you would have wanted".
You can read Madeline's tribute to Guy Fawkes here
"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." ― Mahatma Gandhi
A recent survey by the charity Dying Matters reveals that more than 70% of us are uncomfortable talking about death and that less than a third of us have spoken to family members about end-of-life wishes. In our increasing secular society, we view death as an inconvenience, something to be swept under the carpet