HYDERABAD: 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 Sneha Rooh, a palliative medical expert in the city. Palliative care is care for the terminally ill and their families, especially that provided by an organised health service.
Death Cafe, incidentally, is a worldwide movement to make death more familiar and easier to deal with. The cafe is essentially an informal meet-up where tea and cake are served. Death Cafe was founded in 2011 by a UK-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. The aim of the venture is to increase awareness of death with a view to help people make the most of their lives.
Says Sneha, “Death is a part of life. For me, death makes you more alive and brings me closer to myself.”
Talking to City Express, Sneha recalls how she was in Hyderabad in February and attended an event at Lamakaan and when her friends decided that they would all go to Pahadi Shareef to watch the Thursday Qawwali performance. “We were a group of nine. Most of us met there for the first time.
When we came down the hill and were eating street food, the topic of death came up. It was around 11.30 pm and when I spotted a graveyard in the vicinity, I suggested the Death Cafe idea to the group. Initially they laughed it off, but I explained the concept to them.”
So the group ended up talking about death at the graveyard on that surreal Thursday night in the backdrop darkness. “It was pretty intense. Someone talked about losing their mom two weeks ago, another about their own near-death experiences and the lessons they learnt. I told them that I lost my mom when I was barely a month old and things got moving. We all went back home much wiser, and less scared about death.”
Sneha, who held a similar one in Puducherry two weeks ago, says she 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 will know who you can expect to be with you till your end. You realise what is essential in your life,” she adds.
In November 2016, she was with MNJ Institute of Oncology in the city, she spent three months to carry out her research project titled, “What constitutes a good death, according to the terminally ill and the health care providers at a hospice in Hyderabad.”
The findings of the project was presented by her at the IAPCON conference in Coimbatore. She started Self Reflection meets at MNJ Institute of oncology for the department of Palliative Medcicine. During this period she brought to India the concept of Death Positivism by hosting ‘Death Café” meets in Hyderabad. She has also hosted a 10 episode radio programme called “Death Matters” with the University of Hyderabad bringing Palliative Medicine to the public. “I am planning to travel to 12 states and train General practitioners in the subject,” she says.
As a palliative expert, she feels that 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. All of us were confused about it as there was no proper structure.”
Now, she has a set of questions to those who want to participate in it. 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.”
Sneha planned to organise a Death Cafe 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.
“Let’s talk about death, shall we,” she asks, while promising to throw more light on the subject that concerns everyone.
(With inputs from Akhila Damodaran)