If you have never been to a death cafe, it is a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. People, often strangers, gather to drink tea and coffee, nibble on baked goods and chat about death.
Death cafes have been a part of European culture for some time now, but they are only just beginning to make an entrance here in Ontario.
Toronto has hosted some death cafes and Merri-lee Agar, HHA member, has attended and enjoyed being present at these events.
Taking her experience as a death doula, Merri-lee decided to host her own death cafe in Niagara on March 28th.
Merri-lee believes that death cafes fill a void where people don't have avenues to talk about death. At a death cafe, a door is opened to have that conversation without reservation.
The Niagara Falls Review has written an article about the death cafe, and the event was fully booked.
Merri-lee has been a very integral part of providing her training and expertise to training programs within the Home Hospice Association, ensuring compassion and care is foremost to clients and their families during the dying journey and after the loved one has passed.
After the death cafe I interviewed Merri-Lee and here is what she had to say;
Where did the event take place?
Fairview Cemetery (Administration Building) in Niagara Falls
Why did you choose this location? The space was donated to me by Mark Richardson, Cemeteries Manager, as he supports the initiative and an advocate of creating a space to talk about dying and death. He has recently brought a Green Burials section into Fairview Cemetery, which is an initiative I am a huge supporter of. We have a shared vision of people in Niagara dying well through choices, change and compassion.
How many people attended? 20
Did you expect this many people? Yes, registration was required as seating was limited. It filled up Sunday night and I have a list of people who there wasn’t space for to attend the next one.
What were people attending expecting? Some didn’t know what to expect, some thought it would be conversations about death, some thought it was a presentation.
How did people respond? They all loved it. The conversations were rich and meaningful, people were truly interested in others’ thoughts and views. Feedback at the end of the evening was amazing!
Explain what happened at the death cafe...
How did the conversation go? There were 4 tables of 5 people...there was a list of ‘conversation starters’ on each table, should people be ‘stuck’ for how to get started, but that didn’t seem to happen. It all organically flowed. I didn’t sit at any one table, but rather floated from table to table to listen and join in on occasion.
Were people open and willing to speak freely? Yes – everyone spoke and shared
Did it take a while for people to open up? Yes – there were a couple. Especially those who have a huge fear of dying...they seemed to want to hear what others’ thoughts were first before sharing. They seemed to feel ‘safer’ after that and then went right to town!
Did people seem grateful that they had an opportunity to talk about death?
Immensely so. Most expressed that they never have the opportunity, even when it is something they feel is so important to them. People get ‘freaked out’ or think they are ‘weird’ for wanting to talk about it.
What were some stand out phrases or words/ stories that came out of the evening?
Fears around dying; what happens after...is there anything else; what people believe in/don’t believe in and why, how people would like it to happen – if they could choose (I LOVE hearing those ones!!!) and LAUGHTER! So much laughter!! It was BEAUTIFUL!!!
Also – attendees ranged in age from mid 20’s to mid 70’s.
* if you are interested in hosting a death cafe in your community, or want to know more about what death cafe's are all about please contact Merri-lee at