Death Cafe Cape Town 5th December Write-Up
Thirty people attended our first Death Café at The Dining Room in Cape Town – the perfect venue. Mostly strangers to each other, the feedback (gathered afterwards via email) was very encouraging, and provided some good pointers to our next café, the date yet to be confirmed, either the 23rd of January or 6th of February, 2017.
People arrived (early!) and had the opportunity to write a word or slang phrase for death on the wall, or mingle while they waited for others. Already, there was an excitement in the room. Everyone chose a random slip of paper with a number on it – this was the number of your table. We used the salon model, with four at a table, sometimes three. We split spouses and partners and they seemed to like that, and the freedom it gave them.
From the get-go, it was amazing to witness people engage on a deep level with each other. One person said she appreciated that there was no small talk, that people simply got straight to the point. The facilitation was easy, moving around, checking in with attendees and my colleague, and lightly moving things along if one person seemed to be dominating at any table. It was good to participate.
At cake time people were invited to swop their numbers with someone else, or keep them, it was up to them. Some groups didn’t want to break up, and one even spontaneously burst into song. Many people swopped contact details at the end of the evening. Perhaps the next one should start at 8pm, allowing people supper beforehand. Some people also travelled very far.
Feedback suggests that the group would have benefitted from a different question at half time. The “Who are you and what brought you here” was perfect for the first round, but there was a hunger for the conversation to go further. We asked the second configuration what they had learnt or re-discovered about themselves and their relationship with death in their first conversation. Perhaps, “What is a good death?” or “What is a good death and how could I have one?” might provide the edge and shift things at our next café. Any suggestions would be welcome.
It was good not having alcohol, people said its absence kept them focussed. Also, they said food would have been a distraction. From the voluntary donations, we almost covered our costs.
A big thank you to all who showed up and shared and listened to each other, and to Jon and the Death Café community for enthusiastic guidance and support. Here are some bits of anonymous feedback.
- It was lovely to be part of something unusual, and I appreciate the effort it takes to organise these things. When I left I felt buoyed and energised. It’s definitely something I’d like to do again.
- Cake, amazing, no food needed. Format great. Big influence on my death perspective and especially keen to share with my family.
- Unexpectedly, I found that we spoke more about life than death - and most of the conversation was about the impact death had on us, how it changed how we lived our lives and the choices we made. None of my conversations were around speculating what happened behind the veil but more about what the hell is going on in front on it. I really enjoyed speaking to older women – it’s not a topic that I often discuss, and then it’s always with people in my age-range so talking to women in their mid-60s who had lost husbands gave me a perspective I didn’t know I was missing.
- I would like to attend the next one. I liked the lightness of the facilitation and the freedom to let the conversation go where it needed to.
- I found the evening refreshing and yes it influenced my perspective of both life and death, and the intrinsic interweave of the two aspects. It was wonderful to hear others opinions on the subject and to express my own and I found some "gems" to take home and contemplate. It seems to me death is supported only in the present time of the passing of a loved one by friends and family. However the run up to death (which is often prolonged and tiring for BOTH the caregivers and the dying) as well as the time after the funeral, (when the real loss is felt in the vacuum of practical activities) are not supported by our society. It seems to me that Death Cafe provides a place to safely and respectfully share views, frustrations, opinions and tears. Speaking about death seemed to make it less frightening to me and also seems to have made me appreciate my mortality.
- The death of an idea or a dream; cellular death; the transience of life and the inevitability of death; the liberation from the challenges of life; a relief; death as a happy space; death of something so that something else can live; growth through death ... The ultimate transmutation. I could go on and on. I loved talking about death and loved the forum you provided. Thank you. At first I thought four per table was too few but it seemed to work fine as time just flew and there was so much more to say.
- I thoroughly enjoyed the experience engaging with others. The way in which the death cafe was structured and the questions posed felt non-threatening. I appreciate that the first group I was part of had experienced death and spoke about death all the while; the second group engaged about 'life' and how precious this is-perhaps not sticking exactly to the 'brief' but conversation organically evolved to the appreciation we each felt for the opportunity to be happy in the precious present. I felt uplifted by the evening and the courage displayed by many to share their thoughts and feelings.
- I enjoyed exploring the subject with people I had never met before [what linked us, was the need to "air" the subject.]
- What a wonderful concept to help people face the fear of death. The crowd was awesome. I enjoyed the way it was done and it created a very safe space for all. I do believe if it’s less formal, people feel free to share. The groups I shared with wanted to know more about the Islamic practice because they did not know much which left me talking and not hearing too much of their stories. Their choice tho’ not mine!