What a wonderful gathering!
What a wonderful Death Café gathering we had yesterday!
Death and its proximity was particularly front-of-mind as several of our long-term participants had very recently lost people close to them. In this difficult time, it was so touching to hear of the ways Death Café had helped prepare them for something none of us really wants to face, but we will all have to. This lead many of us to share stories about the deaths of people we cared about and, in turn, turned to speculation about whether someone who is dying is helped and comforted by being 'given permission' to let go, to stop resisting the inevitable and to pass gently into death.
We also talked about the way different people handle the diagnosis of a terminal illness or a prognosis of imminent death - and agreed that our reactions and choices would be as individual as we are; while some would choose to have any and every treatment available and would fight to hold on to life, others would refuse intervention, preferring to let nature take its course and accepting only palliative care. Some would see the choice as being between maintaining best-possible quality of life, as opposed to accepting potentially debilitating treatment in the hope of lengthening their life. Some felt that as there could be no guarantee of treatment being successful it would be fruitless to opt for intervention or aggressive treatment, while others thought it would depend on the stage of a person's life - are they in the latter days 'of a life well lived'? or are they, perhaps, a young parent or grandparent committed to surviving to see their young ones grow?
We touched upon some sad and some disturbing stories - the untimely death of a young mother …and the lack of mainstream support offered to a woman choosing to forego aggressive treatment for cancer. But even in this, we spoke of the benefits we have found through our Death Café discussions - helping to put our own thoughts in order and making it easier for us to speak with others, even at the most sensitive times.
Along the way we heard about the value of Advance Health Directives - not only for making our end-of-life wishes clear when we are unable to speak for ourselves, but also to facilitate the discussions that our doctors may have to initiate with us when we are sick but still able to communicate. And we talked about how difficult these conversations must be for health professionals too - especially if they have been unprepared through their medical training.
And on these more practical issues, we speculated on when autopsies are required and when there might be the discretion to decline a post mortem.
And a couple of people, quite coincidentally, brought along books they had bought or put together to gather the memories and stories of a partner or parent - to use as memory books in the event of advanced dementia and as memoirs after death.
All up, a wide-ranging and at times quite intimate discussion - which might not have been apparent to anyone passing by and hearing the amount of laughter coming from our group. Ten participants this month, plus another two (very-welcome!) 'drop-ins' late in the session.
Next gathering will be on Friday, 30th December for anyone who would like to come along. Visitors welcome, as ever!