Death Cafe in Colliers Wood - 25 November 2018
November saw the fifth meeting of the Colliers Wood Death Café. Kevin and I co-hosted the event which was attended by three people who had been before, and one person who was attending for the first time.
Our discussion began with some reflections on the experience of watching a parent become seriously unwell before rallying and normal life resuming, contrary to medical opinion and prognosis.
We talked about the impact of watching someone get seriously ill, and ideas around Bucket Lists and the revision of priorities should time suddenly feel short. We shared our own experience of gaining clarity about what’s important, and what’s not, and how death and dying seem to serve as a reminder as to our values and what we stand for. We reflected on how we are apt to forget as life can so easily soak up our attention and energy meaning that it is possibly to lose this precious clarity in the midst of our busyness and the triviality of everyday existence.
We returned to consider themes around the inevitability and inescapability of our own mortality, but the mystery faced by most of us who do not and cannot know when we will die. We pondered the question – how can we embrace this more fully, and live alongside it more comfortably?
And what difference might our conversations make - to how we live, and how we die? What limits our willingness to talk about death and dying? When does it become difficult, complicated, or even a taboo subject? We remarked on how children seem to have an ability to talk about death directly, often with great curiosity and acceptance. Who do we seek to protect when we dance around and avoid the subject? What do we miss when we side step it, and avoid ‘going there’?
Our conversation continued in this vein to begin to consider funerals, and the wishes of those whose lives we are left to remember. We talked about the impact of not knowing in any detail what the deceased would wish for their own funeral – and what it feels like to have to guess and improvise a funeral.
Who are funerals for? The person who has died, or those who are left without them? We considered the need to mourn a loss and the perhaps incompatible pressure to appear composed. What does a ‘well attended’ funeral mean, and what does a funeral attended by only a handful or perhaps not even a handful say about the person whose body is being committed?
We thought about our own experiences of grief – its volume, and its messiness. We thought about how grief can lack composure or grace, needing to be mobilised, and released through the body.
We began to talk about an image of life as a bag of sweets, and how dying might be thought of in terms of approaching the bottom of the bag – with life tasting sweeter, and there being more chance of a deeper appreciation with the knowledge that the sweets will not last forever.
We asked the question; how can we stay close to the reality of our impermanence without switching off to it and becoming desensitised to it? We thought about the courage, time and space this perhaps involves, and the relationship the contemplative traditions have with death and dying, creating an opportunity to be present to the reality whilst also offering comfort and reassurance.
Lastly, we returned to talk about what disappears when somebody dies, and what lives on – who will remember us, and how will they do this?
We closed our discussion with an acknowledgment of Remembrance Sunday / Armistice Day and the socially sanctioned opportunity it presents for us to connect with our own losses and bereavements in the company of one another, observing rituals of gathering and standing together, remembering those who gave their lives. We thought too of traditions that exist elsewhere in the world, including the Day of the Dead, and what such dates offer to those who mourn – as opportunities to honour the dead and break the isolation of grieving.
With thanks to all who took part.
Future dates of the Colliers Wood Death Café may be found on the Facebook page as well as on deathcafe.com:
Meetings are planned for the following dates:
Sunday 27 January 2019
Sunday 24 February 2019
Sunday 24 March 2019
Sunday 28 April 2019