Being mortal

Dr Sneha Rooh brings Death Café, originally a British concept, to India.It aims to make death easier to handle via conversations in a café setting.

Published: 25th November 2017 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 25th November 2017 06:14 PM   |  A+A-

Sunish P Surendran.

Express News Service

Death is a topic many people, including medical professionals, shy away from mentioning or discussing. However, Hyderabad-based Dr Sneha Rooh, all of 30 and a palliativecare physician and facilitator of Death Café, is a notable exception.She came across the concept at a time when she was looking for a way to start a conversation about death and dying. She had spoken to terminally-ill people—“who were okay with talking, whereas the people who were well... flabbergasted”—and numerous healthcare professionals. This made her curious as to what the society thought about it.

Death Café was the brainchild of Jon Underwood of the UK. It aims to make death easier to handle via conversations in a café setting. Anyone around the world can start one. Rooh is among the first to bring it to India.Ask her why it is important to talk about death and she says, “Each person who signs up for Death Café has a different answer—some want to process grief, some want to make the most of life, while some want to investigate what is beyond life. There are also those who think on a more practical level—such as being able to arrange for finances, to consider organ donation and to think about  other advance directives (a living will about healthcare choices for the terminally ill).”

Going on, she adds that such a conversation has a lot of potential because while it is important to know and live with the knowledge that we have limited time in this life, we could relish the most of our finite lives when we are aware.At Death Café, there are clear ground rules—no commercial interests, no research etc. Rooh has added a few of her own—confidentiality, compassionate listening, appropriate touch, no interruptions. Following quick intros, whoever feels the need starts talking about what he/she is curious about. “Each session is different as it is shaped and created by the participants. The topics are varied and sometimes we read, sing, and share stories from our lives,” she adds.Death Café, she clarifies, is not a support group. Here experiences are shared and the participants ask important questions, which help one find one’s own answers. Listening to others’ experiences also helps the process.“We do not propose any course of action or solution. There is no other agenda except having a safe confidential space to listen and talk,” says Rooh.

Rooh has also facilitated sessions with children. “I loved my session with the children and found that they are pretty clear and candid—if only we listened to them more and trusted their intelligence. They are more comfortable speaking about death and dying once safety is established, and they know they are listened to and their opinion matters. Didn’t we all pretend to be dead while our siblings shot us? They are honest about fears. There is a price for silence that we adults pay,” she rues.

Can one ever be prepared for death when it actually happens? To this, Rooh feels that the family can prepare by processing anticipatory grief, getting to know the person in transition better and his/her fears and wishes, providing support in addressing matters such as finances, care of children etc which help them transition in peace knowing that things will be fine.  

The assurance that caring for them in the state they are in is acceptable to us is what we need to communicate both verbally and non-verbally, she adds.“Helping them find meaning in the totality of life lived through life reviews, and leaving legacy through voice recordings, letters, for their loved ones comforts them and the ones left behind,” she opines.

Since Rooh happens to be an artist, too, she coordinates art and music therapy sessions. She feels art has great potential, especially when words cannot be used or are inadequate. Currently, Rooh is travelling across the country and hopes to enlarge the conversation around death by engaging newer audiences.
(Dr Sneha Rooh can be reached at

What the Café Does

■ It helps those who want to process grief, want to make
the most of life, or want to investigate what is beyond life
■ There are those who think on a practical level—such as being able to arrange for finances, to consider organ donation and to think about  other advance directives. To them, this is an outlet
■ It is not a support group

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