Talking about dying over cake at Death Café

08 March 2018 - 13:55
By Petru Saal
A reminder that everybody dies.
Image: Facebook/Death Cafe A reminder that everybody dies.

Talking about dying is an uncomfortable topic of conversation‚ but not over a slice of cake at Death Café.

Here‚ people gather to drink tea‚ eat delicious cake and discuss mortality as a means to make the most of life.

Just ask Jean Dixon from the seaside village of Fish Hoek in Cape Town.

“It is such a stigmatised subject. People don’t generally want to talk about it. Now‚ you get to go to a place like the Death Café and talk about it. People come there because they find that there is nobody to talk to‚ or they come there because there is something about death that they feel apprehensive about‚” she said.

Dixon is the driving force behind Death Café at the Hotel Glencairn‚ which promises guests a relaxed evening where conversations are open-minded. “It is not about grief and trauma but simply a friendly space to discuss the inevitable‚” is how the gathering is advertised.

Death Café‚ described as a “social franchise”‚ was a concept started in 2011 by Jon Underwood in London who was fascinated by the works of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz and his Mortel Café. Now the concept has spread across the world. More than 5 000 Death Cafes have popped up in 55 countries since September 2011.

Jon and his mother‚ psychotherapist Sue Barsky Reid‚ produced a guide to running your own Death Café and the concept spread globally.

“What we do is we have a table (at the hotel) with four people. Most restaurants and cafes are very quiet on a Monday that is why we do it on Mondays. We provide coffee‚ tea and cake. Tea and cake are often associated with death‚” said Dixon.

Death is the inevitable and people try and avoid the inevitable

“We then just have a conversation about death. Halfway through we ask people to stop and swap tables and meet other people and chat to other people. Generally people are so engaged in their conversation that they don’t change tables. It is not grief counselling or therapy‚ it is just a conversation‚” she added.

The group‚ which meets once a month‚ varies in sizes between 20 and 40 people. Dixon said people mainly wanted to discuss the logistics of death - where they wanted to die and what should happen to their bodies.

“It is not a religious thing … We have had someone who has a terminal illness and brought the entire family to the meetup. It was nice for them to talk about it‚ not that is a pleasant topic to have when you are faced with an illness but just to open the conservation and hear what other people have to say. It happens to all of us. It is the inevitable and people try and avoid the inevitable.”