Death Café fills need for those who wish to discuss the topic

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GORE BAY – When considering the number of people who have been attending the Death Café sessions on Western Manitoulin, it has proven it is meeting a need. 

“We have found that the Death Café is meeting a need among local residents. People are curious about death and want an avenue to express their feelings and are looking to have discussions on it,” said Reverend Janice Frame, who spearheaded the project on Western Manitoulin. 

“No, we had no idea how much interest there would be when we started the Death Café in May,” said Rev. Frame. “At that first meeting in May I expected Mary John and I might be the only ones in attendance, but 13 members of the public showed up.”

“We’ve had a better response than we had expected,” said Rev. Frame. She said the gatherings have been offered once a month in Silver Water and Gore Bay. At each café, between six and 19 participants have gathered over coffee, tea and sweets and have talked about various practical and philosophical aspects of death and life. 

Death is one of the few things we all have in common. It is part of the cycle of life, and yet death is a topic few of us are comfortable talking about. Death Café makes safe space for that awkward conversation to happen. Jonathan Underwood hosted the first Death Café in his home in London, England in 2011 in an effort to encourage his friends and neighbours to consider their own mortality and, in doing so, recognize what was most important in their living. Since then, Death Café has become an international phenomenon, offered as social franchises in over 65 countries.

Rev. Frame noted a clever poster she read, “today I interviewed a woman who is terminally ill. ‘So,’ I tried to delicately ask, ‘What is it like to wake up every morning and know that you are dying?’ ‘Well,’ she responded, ‘What is it like to wake up every morning and pretend that you’re not?’”

People can talk openly and honestly about death, with no set agenda, no specific education piece and no leading questions. It is not meant to provide grief counseling, nor is it a bereavement support group. It is simply a conversation that emerges from the shared questions, insights, concerns and wisdom each participant brings to the table, she explained.

“At the Death Café we’ve talked about things like the possibility of having a green (environmentally friendly) burial on Manitoulin Island, in which there is no casket or cremation. The deceased person is wrapped in a shroud and buried in the ground. This is now available on the Island. Another one of the topics that have come up has been on why people choose not to have funerals or as another example the value of having a marker somewhere in recognition of a person who has passed on,” said Rev. Frame.

“So far we have talked more about the technical aspects around dying, and at some point the group will then get into more of the spiritual discussion.”

Death Cafés are planned for Wednesday, October 16 at 2 pm at GG’s Diner in Evansville, and Wednesday, October 30 at 7 pm at Almaz’s Health Food Store in Gore Bay, co-hosted by Ms. Frame, Mercedes Hughes and Mary John. Pre-registration is not required and the only cost is for refreshments. For more information see www.deathcafe.com.