GRAVELY SPEAKING – DEATH CAFÉ DISCUSSION LACED WITH LAUGHTER
Coffee and discussion about death, anyone? A slice of grave cake to go with that? All in a friendly atmosphere? Then please take a seat…
That’s what was on offer in Tinahely’s Courthouse Arts Centre on Thursday, February 18th last.
While the event was organised by Canon Ruth Elmes and Fr Chris Hayden (Parish Priest of Coolafancy and Shillelagh) during Christian Unity Week it was not a religious event. The clergy were not touting for business, they said. Nor would a funeral director be ‘sizing people up’!
No, joking aside – and the event was laced with laughter, despite the serious subject matter – it was about opening up the discussion about death – a certainty in everyone’s lives – and about us all facing up to end-of-life issues that often get shoved under the carpet until it’s too late.
- Does your family know your funeral wishes, for example?
- Have you made a will?
- Do you want to be cremated rather than buried?
- Ever heard of power of attorney?
- What are your wishes if you become very ill – do you want to be resuscitated if you go into cardiac arrest, for instance?
- Do you want to be PEG fed and kept alive that way when you can’t swallow anymore?
- Who do you want to organise your funeral?
- Have you recorded your wishes around these topics so that your family will know what to do should such a circumstance happen?
These are all big questions but did you ever think that the sooner you’ve thought about them and made decisions around them the sooner you can get on with making the most of the rest of your life?
The Death Café movement wants you to do just that.
Fr Chris Hayden spoke about the objectives behind the concept. “Death café – put the resonances of both those words together,” he said, “and you get a phrase with an interesting twang to it – serious issues mixed in with the café resonances of cup of coffee, upbeat, uplifting, lifeline…
Canon Elmes agreed that the title is straight and a bit blunt but that it’s important to name it.
“Let’s not pretend we are going to be talking about something else here! It has to be confrontational,” she said. Let’s just take the last taboo – death – acknowledge it and plan for it. There is a feeling that talking about death causes something awful to happen. It doesn’t. Talk about death, it won’t kill you!”
She points out that Death Cafes are not depressing places.
“Laughter dissipates stress…there often a lot of laughter around death. While death is a difficult thing for people to confront, doing so is very worthwhile.”
She went on to outline how the Death Café movement started in Switzerland in 2004 and how it is simply an opportunity to talk about the sort of issues that don’t get talked about.
“We know from our pastoral ministry backgrounds that those who cope best in the immediacy of a crisis or bereavement are those who know what their loved ones want. It’s as simple as that.”
A top table at the event had useful pieces of paper for attendees to take away with them, for example tips on making a will and a simple form where you can write down your funeral and burial wishes. The information sheets provided are a shortened version of what the Irish Hospice Foundation has on its website www.thinkahead.ie. Donor cards were available too.
“The death café has no agenda,” she said. “We are not prescribing what you should talk about except we are here to talk about end-of-life issues. Tolerance, respect, listening and awareness for other people’s views is important.”
Two general questions were thrown out to get the coffee morning started. Those were:
“What single object would you pick to represent you when you die and what object do you think your family would choose?”
Conversation buzzed immediately, individual stories surfacing about why such and such objects would be picked – flowers, books, a pen, a glass of water to symbolize a fulfilled life – very soon everyone had their object. Guessing what family would pick was a different matter, however, with some sure that objects would be the same, others unsure as they tried to think of what aspects of their personality their children would zoom in on.
Discussions broadened out from that to topics like ‘do I get cremated or not’, how do I decide where to be buried – with my husband and his family or can I go back to my birth family’s graveyard, would there be any point in donating my organs if I’m old… are coffins recycled after cremations (they’re not – they go into the cremator with the body).
The ‘get cremated or not’ discussion led to wondering if every graveyard in Ireland should have a columbarium wall or area where caskets with ashes could be stored/buried with a small inscribed plate over them. It was felt that it would be a space-effective way of burial and give families of those created a place to focus on in the future, if they wanted to, in a person’s own parish and provide an alternative to scattering ashes.
Afterwards the overall response to the two-hour event was that it had been very useful with attendees saying that they were glad they had come and that they’d learned a lot and that they would be bringing the discussion home. At the end of both sessions attendees asked if it would be run again and said that they would encourage friends and family to come along if it was.
Donations went to the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust
To view a short video about the Death cafe event in Tinahely click here
To hear a radio item about the event broadcast on RTE 1 on 23rd January 2018 on the Today with Sean O’Rourke programme please click here (item is two-thirds way through clip)
Confectionery generously supplied by parishioners. ‘Grave cake’ from the morning session was by Karen Whitney.