I went to what was billed as a “Death Café” where people “drink tea, eat cake and discuss death” in a safe, intimate setting. On face it sounded like an intriguing and important idea. It was the second time such an event had been hosted locally and having regretted not going to the first, I made a point to show up at this one.
It wasn’t initially clear to me who was sponsoring it but a hospice person facilitated the group. The way it was presented was that people don’t typically have an opportunity to talk about death and this gives them one. Sort of demystifying it I guess. For me, that’s not been the case. I’ve been talking about death, and more specifically grief, for a long time. I don’t shy from it. Fortunately, the material available on both subjects has greatly expanded in the last 20 years or so. It’s a big field now.
About that cake… There WAS a cake cleverly decorated with a “Day of the Dead” style skeleton head, but sadly, it wasn’t cut, and sat there on the refreshment table untouched throughout the 90 minute evening. Sigh. When you promise me cake by god, you best deliver cake I say. (The moderator said one of us should be brave and cut the first piece. I asserted that no one would. I was right.)
The group was a bit too large to function as intimate and as is often the case, a few people did a lot of the talking. What dismayed me was the presence of several sales people. They weren’t introduced in that way but it became clear that they worked in the funeral industry. Had it been advertised to include them, I might have felt differently but their presence shifted the focus of the discussion and its tenor somewhat.
One of my issues with death is the death industry. The money-making aspect. It’s big business. Yes, someone needs to do it – we don’t want to be building our own coffins for loved ones and trooping out into the woods, assuming you can find some, to bury them – but I resent having it packaged for profit. And playing on people’s emotions and vulnerability. I’m not saying everyone does this but we’ve all seen the ads with scare tactics: WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOUR FAMILY WHEN YOU’RE GONE? WHO WILL PAY FOR YOUR FUNERAL? DOESN’T YOUR LOVED ONE DESERVE THE BEST IN THEIR FINAL RESTING PLACE? And more of that ilk.
I was reminded, for about the 1,734th time that I am not a big fan of groups. They generally don’t work for me independent of the subject. I vastly prefer one-on-one conversation. Or even reading a book on a subject, just me and the author. I get more from it. And having participated in a variety of group situations over the years, I have to say the facilitator is a huge part of whether the group functions well or not. It ‘s a rare skill to lead a group well. The Death Café moderator was fine, a congenial, largely hands-off fellow but the guidelines he set out for talking weren’t followed by everyone.
If I have to be in a group (and mostly my life is set up so I don’t have to!) I like the method where an object is placed in the center of the room and a person must pick up and hold the object in order to speak. When they are done they put it back. Only the person holding the object may speak. Also, if you see somebody getting up for the 8th time to pick up the object you can casually stick out your foot and trip them. Haha! No, you really can’t.
I do think we should talk more about death, both in terms of practical matters as well as more personal ones. It’s coming. Not talking about it won’t change that. When you’re spry and of lucid mind, that’s the time to “make your wishes” known. My driver’s license has listed me as a donor as far back as I’ve had one. More significantly, I filled out the “Advance Directive” a couple years ago, had two non-family members sign it and then gave a copy to a family member and one to a non-family member to keep. It was a big step in the right direction. It made me feel like a grown-up.