Struggling to cope with the concept of death? Visit a café, says Rebecca Davis

When Rebecca Davis decided to quit drinking, she made it her mission to find 'alternative' options to stay sane inside an insane world. Here's Part Four of our conversation with her about this arduous odyssey

16 May 2019 - 12:34 By Mila de Villiers
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Image: Leila Dougan

Think "Rebecca Davis".

Adjectives including "South Africa's very best white" (merci for that one, Marianne Thamm), "award-winning journalist" and "the woman who puts the 'wit' in Twitter" ought to be conjured.

But "self-help author"?

If "nah, bru" is your initial response, not to worry. This born cynic would agree hands down.

Self-Helpless, Davis's latest contribution to the local literary scene, chronicling her year-long "journey" of immersing herself in the world of auras, chakras, sweat lodges, mindfulness and (much) more, was sparked when she resolved to undertake "one of the most difficult things I've ever done": quit drinking.

'Self-Helpless: A Cynic's Search for Sanity'.
'Self-Helpless: A Cynic's Search for Sanity'.
Image: Pan Macmillan

Intrigued as to why the struggle was so onerous? Take a look at the facts:

The former Rhodent (all together now: "eat, sleep, mare, repeat!") discovered alcohol at 18 and pursed her newfound hobby with such a "passionate intensity" that by the time she reached 34 she calculated that she had spent roughly 9,984 hours of her 16 years as an imbiber, well, drinking.

Abstaining from the demon drink made Davis question How. The. Hell. Do sober people cope with an increasingly insane world? (And, as she writes, there's plenty to worry about - giraffes are facing extinction, Day Zero remains a shaky reality, the world is running out of sand ... Things are even bleaker now than in '87, R.E.M.)

Cue the alternative-method quest to stay sane inside insanity.

Keen to hear how that went down? Take a deep breath ... Hold for three ... Exhale ... Aaaaand read:

A visit to a café you won't sommer find on TripAdvisor

Part II of Dealing with Death

Davis's consciousness of ageing and mortality was heightened during her quest for calm, which resulted in this alcohol abstainer's discovery of two rather surprising (and sober) approaches to dealing with one's inevitable demise.

The first approach Davis undertook was to download WeCroak, an app which sends you five messages a day reminding you that "yes, you're going to die". The purpose of this friendly reminder is to encourage you to make the most of life as an extant homo sapiens. 

The other way of reckoning with death was by attending a Death Café. These cafés can be found nationwide, but "particularly - obviously - in the Western Cape," the native Capetonian knowingly nods.

"There's tons, tons!" she exclaims. "Every second door is a Death Café. They have them monthly."

Davis was one of "maybe, like, 30 people" - of all ages - who gathered at a Death Café in Woodstock, Cape Town, she recounts.

"You gather into groups of about five and then you have these discussions."

Davis hesitates briefly before resuming with "there aren't any rules except you're not supposed to talk about grief.

"Like, it's not a grief counselling session," she explains. "You don't talk about other people's deaths and you don't talk about religion and ... um ... the idea is that you simply openly discuss the notion of death - your own death, your plans for death in terms of wills or funerals, et cetera. And I just found it was this very strangely uplifting sense of engagement with people."

She pauses for a moment before expanding on the nature of the modern world's relation to religion and, ultimately, death.

"If you're not religious in the modern, urban world, there really are very few places you can go and have meaningful conversations outside of maybe universities and, I suppose, addiction support groups where that does happen as well.

"If not for those spaces, then what do you?" she questions.

The Death Café she attended created a "real sense of being able to dispense with small talk and talk meaningfully about death without necessarily oversharing," she furthers, adding that she found the candid, open conversations "extremely refreshing".

Realising that other people are in the same boat when it comes to you - being uncertain about death, having very conflicted feelings about it - was comforting, Davis empathetically discloses.

"And that was another takeaway from my whole year, actually ... A realisation of actually how lonely modern life is. And we know this, right?" she assuredly declares.

"There's all these articles on the epidemic of loneliness. But I think that we don't consciously realise - especially if you have friends, you're in a relationship - you don't consciously realise it's not so much about personal loneliness, but about social loneliness," she muses.

"There really are very few ways in which we come together and engage these days. And I think that doing so helps."

Hear, hear.

Stay tuned for Part Five: A week sans phone...