Sunday, 27 April 2014

A Successful Death Cafe

I'm pleased to say that Huddersfield's first Death Cafe went really well.
I was extremely pleased by how it turned out.
There was a total of 13 people (that's including myself). It was held at the World Peace Cafe at the Vajrapani Buddhist Centre in Birkby. I don't think the discussion group could've had a better venue. A sense of calm and serenity ran throughout the cafe as people discussed death and dying - and ultimately life.
Due to the mixed response on Facebook and on the Huddersfield Examiner's website, I wasn't sure if those who had registered would even turn up. I would say that over 90% of them did (some brought their friends) - and afterwards they asked when the next one would be, which was always nice to hear.
The group started at 2:30pm and at about 2:35 a lady walked into the cafe. She went to the counter and ordered herself a coffee. I wasn't sure if she was part of the group and I didn't know how to ask her. Standing at the door holding a sign that said "DEATH & DYING" crossed my mind, but I thought it might put people off.
'I'll ask her,' a friend said.
He walked up to her and I heard him quietly say, 'Excuse me, have you come for the Death Cafe.'
The look she gave him was as if she was staring Mr G Reaper in the face. 'God, no,' she said.
My friend laugh, nervously.
This lady ended up joining the group and was one of the last three people to leave an hour after the group was supposed to finish. 
Even though it was a discussion group based on death, this was only a minute section of the vast range of topics that was covered.
95% of the people who came were meeting one another for the first time. When we talk to strangers we naturally want to share our stories - and over coffee and cake, we naturally listen. When we actively listen to someone it's not only them who benefit, but we do too. Without realising it, when we give someone our attention and our time, a feeling of worth arises within us.
We are giving of ourselves. We are contributing to the greater good.
As for myself, I had to do very little. The admin was taken care of by my good friend, Susan Dewhurst (Over The Rainbow Workshops) and beforehand, all I did was type up and print 10 questions that I thought could be used as a guide, just in case people were stuck for what to talk about next.
The questions were:
1. Do you fear death?
2. How often do you think of death and dying, and why?
3. Do you believe in an afterlife? If you do, how does this belief affect your attitude to death and dying? How does it affect your attitude to living?
(The same goes for if you don't believe in life beyond the physical world; How does this belief affect your attitude to death and dying? How does it affect your attitude to living?)
4. How do you think the Hospice movement has affected our attitude towards death and dying?
5. Do you want to be buried or cremated?
6. Why do you think people don't want to talk about death and dying? Why do you think it is known as a taboo topic?
7. Do you visit cemeteries?
8. Why do you think death is feared by the majority?
9. Have you ever read any books on death and dying?
10. Do you see death as separate from life?
If you're thinking of setting up your own Death Cafe (which is not a cafe but a discussion group based in a cafe) then I highly recommend.
Remember, talking about death is talking about life.
And life isn't that scary, is it?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Playing Catch-Up

Going through some old files on my memory stick I came across a folder called 'Playing Catch-up'. I'm not sure if it's an old blog post or not, but I thought I would share it. I found it quite interesting to read.

I wrote it in 2011.

This was the dream; 

I shut the door behind me and walk away with a mixed bag of feelings, ranging from relief, fear, sadness and guilt. Then I see my car parked on the street and notice my clothes crammed on the back seat and all my trainers and shoes in the passenger foot well. 

It was crystal clear. 

Then I woke up. 

But this time there was no waking up. 

I'm living it. 

Every moment is exactly how I perceived it when I was asleep. I knew it wasn't just a dream. I felt it, but I couldn't decipher its meaning at the time. It was too vivid to be a dream. 

Dreams are fuzzy - premonitions and visits stay with you. They're meaningful. It's almost as if the formless part of you, the part of you that is beyond the restrictions of space and time, has experienced part of your blueprint and has decided to show you a snippet of it. Then with time you gradually catch up with what you saw.

It has happened to me before when I was working in a supermarket in my late teens. I 'dreampt' I was walking down the staff corridor and began to work my way down the stairs to the shop floor. But it was the feeling and the detail that stood out. 

That's how I knew it wasn't a dream. 

I knew exactly where I was . . . I'd worked there for five years and I hated it when I dreamt of work. I felt like I was being cheated of good sleep. But this was different because I felt ecstatic. A feeling of pure joy and lightness coursed its way through my dream-self. I even woke up with a smile on my face.

At the time I couldn't figure out its meaning. 

It took me about a year to catch up to it. 

The day came when I walked my way down the staff corridor and I whispered to myself, 'This is the dream.' I worked my way down the stairs and smiled. The feeling of lightness was in every step I took. I couldn't help smiling. 

What day was this happening on? 

My last day working at the supermarket.
It was almost as if a part of me was letting me know that one day I would move on from that place and that all I needed was a little patience.

And now it has happened again with the dream about my belongings in the car. 

I've caught up to what was shown to me about a month ago and it turns out I was being shown the ending of a long-term relationship. 

I unlocked the car door, got in and took a deep breath and it dawned on me how it works. 

I'm being shown the ending of chapters in my life. Every time a chapter is coming to an end, I get shown a glimpse of it when I'm asleep. Then I go about my life and I have no idea when I'm going to catch up to it. 

All I know is that one day, I will.

Monday, 14 April 2014

A Test . . . How Enlightened Are you?


If you can live without caffeine or nicotine;

If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains;

If you can resist complaining;

If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you any time;

If you can take criticism and blame without resentment;

If you can ignore friends' limited educations and never correct them;

If you can treat the rich and poor alike;

If you can face the world without lies or deceit;

If you can conquer tension without medical help;

If you can relax without liquor;

If you can sleep without the aid of drugs;

If you can have no prejudice against creed, colour, religion, gender, sexual preference, or politics  -

- then you have almost reached the same level of spiritual development as your dog.


Sunday, 13 April 2014

Just to Clarify . . .

The recent article in the Huddersfield Examiner about the Death Cafe seems to have caused a bit of a stir.

Due to the feedback I've received I feel like I need to clarify a few things:

1. Several people have said how they felt shocked to read that only females in their 30's will be attending the discussion group. This is an error on behalf of the reporter. (I don't think journalists are very good at the game of 'Chinese whispers', as we call it in the UK.) The reporter rang me up and asked me various questions about the nature of the discussion group, its purpose and what kind of people I expect to see there. I told him that two of my friends, who are both in their 30's and female, are going. I said that I expect there to be more women than men, as is usually the case at such events. I went on to say that it's a fact that men find it more difficult to talk about their feelings than women do. They find it harder to open up. Men see it as a sign of weakness, whereas women gain strength from their ability to be open and share.

What I didn't say was that there are only women attending the event. It just so happens that a few men who have registered for the first discussion group.

A friend of mine saw the article and said, 'I didn't know you was setting up a cafe' . . . which brings me onto my next point:

2. A Death Cafe is not a cafe.

I'm not sure who came up with the name "Death Cafe" but it's misleading. It sounds macabre and grim and quite gothic. It's not their fault, it's the thousands of years of badmouthing death that is to blame. The word death brings with it so many negative connotations, so it's no surprise that "Death Cafe" sounds like a mass suicide pact just after a skinny latte and a blueberry muffin . . . Great!

I prefer to call it Talk About Dying - abbreviated to TAD. This way, the venue (which, surprisingly, is usually a cafe) won't be projected as being frightening and eerie.

The article got shared nearly 300 times, which goes to show how many people are interested in shining some light on this taboo topic.

A few jokes popped up which made me laugh. Somebody said that they had been to a Death Cafe the other week but it was dead.

This one made me laugh the most, though: I went to one last week but there was coffin all the way through it.


So, let me conclude:

  • Everybody is welcome at a Death Cafe discussion group. You can be male, female, both or neither (?) Everybody dies, Everybody's welcome (that should be the slogan).
  • A Death Cafe is not a cafe. It's a discussion group to discuss all things related to death and dying. Renaming it to TAD (Talk about Dying/Death) might be a very wise move. It certainly helps clarify things.
  • Joking about death and dying can be funny at times, but it can also be a great way to mask our fear.