Writeup of Death Café at Café Rouge in Hampstead, London on 11 November 2013 with Josefine Speyer
Following a very positive article about the October Death Cafe at Cafe Rouge in London’s Time Out magazine, this November Death Cafe was soon fully booked. I even considered holding a second Death Café that month to accommodate everybody! Fortunately I didn’t, as instead of the 40 plus people expected, only 19 people attended. It was a bit disappointing as I had turned so many people away, thinking we were overbooked. Nevertheless, we had a very good and positive evening. It was moving, inspiring, heart warming. There was a wonderful open sharing from people, gathering around three tables. Thank you to Sharon Young and Philomena Corrigan who helped facilitating at tables.
For the first half of the evening we invited everyone to say something about themselves and why they had decided to come. Most came for the first time. People shared intimate stories of bereavement, of the satisfaction of caring for a dying husband at home and sharing his moment of death; their feelings about facing death, the difficulty of addressing the subject with family members, with adult children or with elderly parents. We also spoke of experiences of near death experiences, nearing death awareness and after death communications with a sense of wonder and astonishment. It was interesting to hear of differing views and learning from each other.
In the second half we asked people what their ideal death would be like and what they felt would need to achieve that.
At the end of the evening we formed a large circle. This provided the opportunity for some people to speak to the whole group, reflecting on their experience of the evening. Comments ranged form the personal and emotional, to the philosophical and more general. There was a sense of something profound being shared. A woman living with a life limiting illness who was quite ill but looked very well said, quite firmly and calmly, in response to one comment: ”I am not JUST going to die! I am going to DIE!” For her, dying was not a far off theory. It was much closer to home.
Many of us are too easily lulled into believing our own dying is a long, long way off, so far in fact that it is not quite a reality. Death Café creates a space for people to practice thinking and talking about dying and death, this helps to make it feel more real. It encourages us to feel more appreciative of being alive right now and to recognise there are opportunities for us worth taking now. It feels a good thing to do.
Josefine, 62, psychotherapist and host of this Death Café
I attended the November Death Cafe as a facilitator for the second time. Each event brings different people and their different experiences to the table and over the course of an evening discussing our deep seated worries and individual concerns an atmosphere of profound intimacy grows through open and honest communication with others.
This month, there were two people at my table with a life limiting illness. It seemed that they were both able to safely express their frustrations and experiences of their illness and this was received by the others in a respectful and constructive manner.
When some participants are actively struggling with issues, I was touched by the support given and depth of conversation achieved bringing the discussion of difficult topics out into the open. By responding to others concerns we sometimes manage to answer our own and it seemed that there was a "spirit of fellowship" and openness around our table.
The process of dying often involves an accumulation of losses, of function, dignity, friends and relationships and Death Cafe is one of the few places I have experienced where individuals can be truly honest about their concerns!
Sharon, 42, Academic
I found that part of the discussion at the table I facilitated was about spiritual matters as it always is. What better opportunity to think about the meaning of life and what might happen after death than at a Death Café? It is always interesting and thought provoking to hear other people’s opinions and feelings about these existential questions. People were listened to with respect. By that I don’t mean that we had to pretend to agree with what others thought, but actively listen to what they had to say.
The act of speaking aloud helps us clarify what we do actually think and feel.
One of the other members of the group was also an atheist and we got into an enthusiastic discussion about a book that helps to overcome the fear of death, both for believers and non-believers. It is Irving D Yalom’s “Staring at the sun: Overcoming the dread of death”. Yalom is an atheist psychotherapist who thinks that much of how we live our lives and what we strive for is due to the ‘mortal wound,’ knowledge of death. In the book Yalom explains how he has dealt with his own fear of death, as well as discussing how he has helped his patients.
Philomena, 60, trainee End-of-Life-Doula
Feedback from participants:
Where did you hear about this event?
Josefine’s mailing list 2
Number of participants: 18 (15 women, 3 men)
(Plus 3 female facilitators/host)
Average age: 56
(women: 54 (21 – 79)], [men: 70 (66 - 74)]
(Plus 3 female facilitators/host: Average age: 48)
Have you attended Death Café before?
First time: 12
3 - 8 times: 3
▪ 2 Nurses
▪ Trainer/consultant/interfaith minister/ funeral celebrant
▪ 3 teachers
▪ Antique dealer
▪ 3 writers
▪ Palliative care social worker
▪ Psychologist/astrologer/theatre director/performer
▪ 2 psychotherapists
▪ 2 journalists
What is your ethnic group?
1 Black Caribbean
(plus 3 white facilitators/host)
1 x GCSE
2 x Diploma
9 x First Degree
7 x Postgraduate Degree
Motivation to attend:
3 x I have a life-limiting illness (one said ‘age’)
5 x I have been bereaved:
8 x I want to prepare for my own death:
10 x I wish to learn about end of life issues:
3 x General interest/Curiosity
2 x to experience Death Café and talk about important topic of death
What did you appreciate about the event?
• Friendly people.
• Learning about other people’s experiences/fears/sorrow.
• The time we had. It can always be longer, but we achieved deep sharing.
• Friendly atmosphere.
• Diversity of people attending the event.
• The connection, the willingness to share feelings and thoughts etc.
• All, warmth, relaxed, enough.
• Sharing and diversity.
• Good talking, caring for one another, people feeling free to talk in a way they don’t usually, and be listened to.
• Listening to others as well as feeling safe to talk about my thoughts.
• Learning about other people’s experience/fears/sorrow.
• The privilege of hearing other’s stories, their honesty and directness, the opportunity to do this unusual thing.
• Honesty from participants in my group, shared experience, opportunity to take part.
• Honesty. I left relaxed and could understand mostly what people said, I mean, they were talking with sincerity.
• Space for everyone to speak and the respect given to each of us, interesting topics/discussions about things that are important to me.
• Open sharing of vies and feelings.
• Frankness, intimacy, and ….
• The diversity of ideas/beliefs and tolerance of difference.
• The connection, the willingness to share feeling, thoughts, etc.
How would you describe your experience of this Death Cafe?
• Very good
• The best so far
• Thought provoking.
• With difficulty but very positive
• I was surprised by the spectrum of feelings which ran through me during the course of the evening. There was grief, joy, warmth, fear, then ..fullness?
• Fascinating, inspiring, gave me lots to think about.
• Emotional, sometimes difficult.
• Not as scary as I thought it would be! Everyone very friendly and thoughtful and respectful.
• I am glad and surprised about the ‘coincidence’ between my daughter’s essay and Josefine’s reseach about near death experience and consciousness.
• Very positive.
• It crowded my mind with a lot of ideas and feelings, but we did begin to delineate the terrain, the issues.
• Increasingly open in ideas and emotion.
Was there any aspect of the event you were dissatisfied with or felt uncomfortable about? How could this be improved?
• More time? ….. Somehow?
• Differences of views. Some prejudices, that people have. Obviously this is expected.
• Only sad at the unhappy state of one person at our table.
• Have to think about this more.
• Not dissatisfied at all. I felt a bit uncomfortable sometimes because there is so much to think about, it is personal, and one wants to be able to listen and respond appropriately to everyone, etc. which isn’t always easy.
• Opportunity to talk to more people in the other groups
• Slightly dislocated start, with interruptions for food ordering and paying. Perhaps best to arrive earlier and eat beforehand.
• I needed to move a bit more – my mistake!
• I felt very comfortable throughout – apart from something I said – but I learnt a lot from it!
• I thought sitting in a circle at the end changed the atmosphere to more formal and distant. Maybe there is a way to do it differently?
• Everything was great!
Overall, how would you rate this event? Average: 9
How did you rate the venue? Average: 8.5
How did you rate the facilitation? Average: 9.6
Planning to host a Death Café? If so, where?
3 x maybe
3 x not yet
I am not ready yet, but glad they exist
Not planning but would like one near my home (Greenwich or Blackheath)
I love all of your write ups, Josefine! You're amazing at all that you do! <3 Megan
Posted by Death Cafe St. Joe/ Megan Mooney
it is worth doing these write-ups, but I always put off doing them. In the early days I left off a lot of the feedback, just because it was all so very positive and I thought it would bore people to read too much of that!
I now think write-ups are important, but they take a great deal of my time. Arrrgh!
Posted by Josefine Speyer