Petersfield First Death Cafe Report





Our First Death Cafe - held at Winton House, Petersfield, Hampshire, UK

(This report is written with a fair bit of basic detail, to include the type of information that I was looking for prior to running our first session, and includes the evaluation feedback at the end)

Thirteen participants joined the 2 facilitators Wendelien and Diana at Winton House.  Some participants travelled over 50 miles to attend, and ages ranged from early thirties to the oldest at 85.  Amongst the group were several retirees, some bereaved people also nurses, end of life doulas, soul midwives, psychologist and bereavement counsellors.  

Participants were welcomed and offered refreshments on arrival and then all sat in chairs set out in a circle.  The session started with the facilitators welcoming people then outlining the background of Death Cafes, stating that it was started by Jon Underwood in London as a safe place to talk about death, with no agenda or specific topics.

Four points from the Death Cafe guidelines were read out:

  • No intention of leading participants to any conclusion, produce or course of action.
  • As an open, respectful and confidential space where people can express their views safely
  • On a not for profit basis
  • Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cafe

Also, added to turn mobile phone to off/silent

 

We continued with individual introductions from which discussion flowed freely and without gaps.  After about 1hr 15mins the session was drawn to a close by the facilitators, participants were then free to chat and drink more tea/coffee and eat cake, closing at 9pm. 

The topics of conversation varied, many were deeply personal, the main themes were recorded afterwards by Wendelien and Diana as recalled.

  • Near death experience 
  • Not frightened of dying
  • Sudden death
  • Loss of a child
  • Feelings of anger
  • Need to prepare for dying, as we are all going to die
  • People should party before they die (be with those you love, have fun, hear your eulogy)
  • Overwhelmed by the fear and ghastliness  of death
  • Cancer trajectory and dying of other illnesses
  • Death is taboo, affects bereavement deeply, causes loss of friends, deep isolation
  • Helpful to wear a sign when bereaved – ie black armband, badge like footballers and military
  • Burden of grief and living with it, always stays with you, but you learn to live with it
  • Existential crisis – bereavement changes your forever
  • Old age, retirement, ageing
  • Children need to have a safe space to talk ie at nursery/school
  • Children learn ‘death ditties’ in the playground
  • People used to laid out in their front room
  • During the war death was common and ‘normal’
  • Medicalisation of death
  • Frustration with NHS and its targets 
  • Even in Hospice death is medicalised
  • Coffins can be made pre-death – woven with willow, intertwined with felt etc, messages, objects included
  • Funerals can be done much cheaper – stories of individuals lying in the house not funeral parlour before crematorium

 

EVALUATIONS (using Death Cafe forms)

Six evaluation forms were completed and collected:  

Summary of responses:

  • The venue was perfect.  Sunny and bright
  • Interesting to meet a diverse group of people
  • Very interesting fascinating to just sit with others and feel comfortable
  • Pleased that this group has been set up 
  • Given a chance to further the acceptance that death is normal and can be appreciated as such
  • Exciting to hear others views and experiences
  • Found out how free people are about talking about their experiences of death, how diverse experience is
  • Open, free, respectful and humorous 
  • Open and interactive
  • ?what do you want from this meeting??
  • Facilitators made us all very comfortable
  • placing the cake in the middle of the table might ensure you fab baking was eaten and appreciated

Words that best described your experience of death cafe:

  • Mildly exhilarating
  • Humbling x 2
  • Inspiring
  • Openhearted
  • Interesting x 2
  • Enlightening
  • Open
  • Honest
  • Life affirming
  • Positive
  • Affirming
  • Validating
  • Interactive

Other comments:

 

  • Thank you for setting this up
  • Support natural death
  • Well done – an amazing start.  Can’t wait for the next one and will aim to bring a friend

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