BENGALURU: How would you like to die? Would you choose a sudden death in an accident or a peaceful death in sleep?
Death is a subject that many people are uncomfortable with. But talking about it can help, says the organisers of Death Cafe, a worldwide movement to make death more familar and easier to deal with. The Cafe is essentially an informal meetup where tea and cake are served. Sneha Rooh, a palliative medical expert, had put out an invite for the city’s first such Cafe. She says, “Death is a part of life. For me, death makes you more alive and brings me closer to myself.”
Sneha would like to die an old woman who has led a healthy lifestyle with children, family, friends and neighbours. “When I think of death, I think who would come to see me when I breathe my last. You realise what is essential in your life,” she adds.
Death Cafe was founded in 2011 by aUK-based Jon Underwood who works on projects related to death. Inspired by Buddha who has said thinking about death is helpful, Jon decided to focus on working around death in August 2011. Anyone across the world can hold the Cafe, provided you follow the guidelines (see box).
He tells City Express, “Shortly after, I heard of the work of Bernard Cretan who started Cafe Mortels in Switzerland and I knew I wanted to do something similar. The first Death Cafe was facilitated by my mother, Susan Barsky Reid, in September 2012. In 2013, I wrote a guide to running your own Death Cafe and the first person to do this independently was Lizzy Miles in Columbus, Ohio. Since then Death Cafes have spread to 47 countries.”
The aim of the venture is to increase awareness of death with a view to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.
Sneha had planned to organise a Death Cafe, a meetup to discuss death with tea and cake, which is a worldwide phenomena, in Bengaluru on April 15 at Courtyard Cafe. She had posted an invite on Facebook page and five people turned up for the event but Sneha could not show up. She says, “I didn’t get any confirmation from any participants for the event and I was held up with other work.” Although she assures to hold one in the city soon.
Hyderabad and Puducherry Meets
She had held Death Cafes in Hyderabad last month and in Puducherry two weeks ago. She felt talking about death is need of the hour.
“I had noticed how even the palliative doctors just break the bad news (that you are about to die) but do not really talk about death.
When I held the first Death Cafe in Hyderabad, I had just invited friends and friends of friends at a cafe and had an informal talk.
All of us were confused about it as there was no proper structure. In the next meetup, I had prepared a set of questions like how would you bring the topic of death in your family and what would you like to be done with your body after death... would you like to cremate or bury and would you like to donate organs?”
Most people she spoke to said that they would like to die peacefully in sleep. But she got some weird replies too. She recalls, “One man said he wants to die in an accident in one shot. He doesn’t want to realise he’s going to be dead.
Another man said he wants to die struck by lightning. A breast cancer survivor who had flown down to India from UK said that her near-death experience brought her close to life. The meetups were informational. The movement Death Cafe is slowing take shape but it will take time.”
No Space for the Cafe
Jon says, “Certainly many people don’t want to talk about death and that’s fine - Death Cafe is not for them. For many people death is scary and unpleasant so why talk about it? For some, there is a superstition about this as if talking about death will make it more likely to happen.
That is why we have tea and cake at Death Cafes as this helps to mitigate this fear. However, our growth shows that many people do want to talk about death at sometime or other and this is completely normal.” For him, thinking and talking about death is essential to good mental health.
“However in the UK where I am and in many other cultures, death is quite a marginalised subject. This can cause issues where people are unprepared to deal with something which is an integral part of life.”
He says it was difficult to find a place to host his first Death Cafe. “So I decided to use my house. Since then there have not been so many obstacles. The main difficultly is my work is unpaid and the project has become quite large.”