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The Measure of Love (in Lemon Drizzle Cake)

October 12, 2014

Caleb Parkin writes about his first experience of a Death Cafe after attending the Bristol Death Cafe on the 7th September 2014:

Out from the bright Sunday sun and down the steps, onto a bright carpet of flowers, a bright carpet of flowery crockery, atop immaculately laid tables. We’re here, among these far-from-funeral blooms, to meet new people, drink tea, eat cake and talk about death. Err, why?

The talk flows from the teapots and between us: of what we think this ‘death’ thing is; of what we’d like to happen for our own funerals, when we shuffle-off, tune-out, move on, or whatever other euphemism you care for. For this is a space where we can begin to peek behind those euphemisms, get real about death. Because few things, despite our deep-seated British death-denial, are more real, more normal, than death.

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Around the room there are emphatic nods, teary eyes and eruptions of laughter. We have a lengthy digression into the importance, complexity and difficulty of the embrace, and a comprehensive breakdown of types of hug: with breathing (the hippy hug); the two-pats-and-off (Dad-hug); and so on. This is the stuff of life, but all stemmed from talk of death – with people who have only just met.

As we chomp another slice of lemon drizzle cake (bought in a moment of largesse by one of our table) there is a very present sense of our own mortality; of the importance of acknowledging and bearing witness to one another’s experiences, fears, hopes and ideas about death. It’s not about being morbid, macabre, moribund – it’s quite the opposite. It’s about being present with other human beings. The other presence at the table isn’t really death, but life (because nobody, actually, knows what happens after, or before, or usually – if we’re honest – during it).

Jeanette Winterson wrote: ‘Why is the measure of love loss?’ For me, the affirmation of having this kind of conversation is that death itself isn’t ‘difficult”. It’s part of life, part of a process (cue Elton John and Simba). What’s actually difficult is loss.

So the room clinks with stirring teaspoons, with life, with loss, and inevitably brims with love: in sharing something fundamental, something that really does affect us all.

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Emma

Dr. Stuarts Tea and Books

Can we talk about death?

September 1, 2014

Imagine you’re down the pub on a Friday night with your friends, and you bring up the subject of a zombie apocalypse. I imagine nearly, if not, all your drinking chums will bring a well thought-out strategy to the table. They‘ve previously pondered it no doubt, perhaps even spent a previous evening plotting with friends. Nobody will think the conversation weird, or out of place, in fact, if anything, it is welcomed, as you can never go over your action plans too rigorously, or tweak your plan as you hear more ingenious tactics.

Now imagine the same pub and friends, but you bring up the topic of actual, real-life death. What do they want to happen to their body, have they planned or prepared for their death in any way? What happens after you die? By now I’m sure there is an uncomfortable silence, shifting in seats, and for once, Jeff has offered to get a round in.

The truth is we’re more comfortable dealing with death in the abstract, if at all. The chances of a zombie apocalypse occurring are slim to none – yes I know many of you scoff at my cynicism – yet the chances of you, and all your drinking buddies, and the barman, and everyone you’ve ever known or loved dying is 100 per cent. Even at that last statement I’m sure a few of you backed away from your screens. But why are we so afraid to talk about something that is inevitably going to happen to us? Why does it make us so twitchy, while in the theoretical face of armies of reanimated corpses trying to eat our brains, suddenly we’re Chuck Norris.

As a therapist I see many clients with death anxiety. When I enquire if they have ever talked about their fears with their loved ones, quite often they haven’t, because of the fear of upsetting them, of being seen as ‘morbid’, or because somehow they believe that it will tempt some awful sort of fate.

Death anxiety and discomfort around the subject seems to be quite a new thing or at least the prevalence of such anxieties does. As you may remember from studying Ancient Egyptians, Vikings or Romans at school, there were many rituals and practices around death that were part of everyday life. And even in this country it would seem we were much better at dealing with death in days gone by. Perhaps the reason is because life expectancy used to be much lower – pre-NHS there wasn’t so much focus on keeping people alive at all costs; perhaps because a higher percentage of people attended churches that provided answers to what happens after death; perhaps it was because death was more visible in the past, with more people dying at home and staying there until burial, rather than tucked away in hospitals, then whisked away to mortuaries and funeral homes… perhaps it’s a combination of all of this and other reasons besides.

What I have found however; is that talking about death, far from being morbid, has the great effect of making us feel better, not only about death, but life as well. Indeed studies have been done that shows that talking about death has a beneficial effect on our wellbeing. Once you talk about death, you confront it; you deal with your feelings about it, it stops being a scary, locked-away taboo in your mind and becomes more manageable.

This is why movements such as Deathcafe.com and Deathsalon.org are so vital in getting people to talk about death, and this is what Not Being Morbid is all about. Giving people a chance to talk about death, learn about death and through that, enjoy life more. So let’s lift the lid on death and dying, and I promise, we’re not being morbid.

Emma