Reflections of Death Cafe Marrickville: Stepping into the unknown February 7, 2016

In September 2014, I facilitated my first Death Cafe; Death Cafe Marrickville.  Inspired by a friend who had been running Death Cafe’s in London (Death Cafe Hamstead), and who herself was deeply involved in the natural death movement, and after much thought and preparation, the time had come to step into the unknown.  Which I did one sunny spring day, heading for a nearby suburb in an attempt to  locate a cafe which would play host to my planned monthly events.

After receiving a wide range of responses, not all of which were overly encouraging, I found myself walking through a doorway and up a staircase which led initially to a first-floor landing.  This continued up to the second floor, and another small landing, on which was a black door.  Upon entering, I found myself in a huge room.  At one end of the room was a low stage, while running the length of one of the walls was a well decked out bar.  Ecclectic furniture decorated the room, with randomly arranged coffee tables, overstuffed couches and gorgeous Chesterfields quite literally consuming the entire space.  Art decor lamps offered muted light in the dim expanse, while heavy brocade drapes, hanging from a high ceiling across tall windows which faced the street, emitted slivers of the hot afternoon glare.

I remember feeling rather awkward, particularly as there was a group of men having a drink and chatting with one another next to the bar.  I wondered if I might have interrupted a gathering of sorts? After identifying the owner, I took a deep breath, launched into my ‘spiel’ and waited.  Craig, who I learnt later shared ownership of Lazy Bones Lounge with Alex, looked at me and said, “A death cafe, what a great idea.”  I was home.

Since that time, both Craig and Alex have generously hosted Death Cafe Marrickville.  Demonstrating great faith in my ability and commitment to encourage death-related discussion in the community, they have been tireless supporters of my endeavours, incredibly patient, and wonderful hosts; in addition to tea, coffee and cake, many a Death Cafe devotee has been offered a glass of wine by Craig during the afternoon session!

In reflecting on Death Cafe Marrickville, its’ been my experience that no two Death Café’s have ever been alike.  In fact, they’re all unique because everyone who attends, even the ‘regulars’ who may come and go, are internally touched in some way, or moved, by whatever they hear.  Being the facilitator, I am especially aware of this with regard to myself.  On many occasions I have learnt about aspects of the funeral industry I was previously unaware of, have had my ‘mental muscles’ poked, prodded and stimulated by attitudes, opinions and behaviour in contrast to my own, and have felt a deep communion with what I believe psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical suffering of others so often reveals; our shared humanity.

The Death Cafe movement (see deathcafe.com) has been inspirational in promoting community-based ‘death literacy’ or in layman’s terms, a forum designed to deconstruct the fear and stereotypes so often associated with death and dying related issues.

The Death Cafe movement was founded in 2011 by Jon Underwood from Hackney, East London, after being inspired by the eminent Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. He created the Death Cafe website and formalised the concept of free gatherings, hosted by willing individuals under a set of guidelines. At each meeting, people gather to discuss death and the varied topics and issues accompanying the subject. Far from being sombre or negative, feedback has proved the Death Cafes to be respectful, supportive occasions,  with warmth, laughter and lively discussion throughout. The enthusiasm generated by these gatherings has meant that the concept has travelled far and wide, mainly via word of mouth and social media.

If you’re interested in attending Death Cafe Marrickville, or just want to keep up to date with what’s on, visit us at facebook.com/deathcafemarrickville/ or at our website at waysofbeing.com.au  You can even send an email to info@waysofbeing.com.au

Michele T Knight Written by:

Dr Michele Knight is a Social Worker, Social Scientist, researcher and independent scholar. Her interest and research in the end-of-life has its origin in the lived experiences of her own bereavements, her near-death and shared-death events, the returning deceased and attitudinal responses to those experiences. Since 2006, she has been extensively involved in community development, support and advocacy in both a professional and community services/voluntary capacity in the areas of bereavement and grief, hospital pastoral care, and academic lecturing/tutoring. Her PhD, Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communique, explores the lived experience of bereavement, grief, spirituality and unsought encounters with the returning deceased.

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