Last year, I took part in my first Death Café at St Oswald’s, and my assumptions were challenged. First of all the room was full of normal people and there was about 30 people of various ages. There were no ‘death experts’, just the lovely Eileen Ridley, a former palliative care social worker, who talked us through the format of the morning and who had provided some delicious cakes too.
We had six tables and each one had a cheerful tablecloth and a small vase of flowers, making St Oswald’s Focus on Living Centre look, well... like a café. On each table there was a piece of paper with a suggested topic to help steer conversations if needed. These topics included grief, funerals and advanced care planning. Each table also had a facilitator, but, like the suggested topics, they were there just to keep the conversation flowing.
And my goodness, flow it did. I remember pausing just to listen to the general hubbub - a warm, bubbling sound. Not the hushed, sombre tones I might have expected when people are talking about death. There was even quite a lot of laughter and a few tears here and there but that was OK. The atmosphere was caring and supportive so people felt safe to be honest and open. I listened more than I talked (for once) and I was rewarded with stories and points of view from complete strangers which both affirmed some of my own or offered a new perspective.
Not everyone wants to talk about death and dying and that is fine but for those of us who at least want to explore these themes the Death Café is an excellent way to start. So please don’t stay away because you think it will be sad or depressing. That certainly wasn’t my experience and wasn’t the feedback of other participants.
Our next Death Café will be at St Oswald’s on Saturday 18th May, 10am – 12noon at St Oswald’s Hospice. Everyone is welcome. If you'd like to book a place, or find out more information, visit www.stoswaldsuk.org/death-cafe