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Find out exactly what happens at a Death Cafe

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Hands up, who likes tea?

Hands up, who likes tea?'s story

Allison Cliff is a librarian, part of the Leeds Libraries team. She’s helped out Leeds Bereavement Forum and their death cafe sessions.

Hands up who likes a nice cuppa with a delicious slice of cake? Oh of course, bring it on!

Hands up who likes to talk about death? Hmm, it is here that my mind drifts to the scene on the 80s television show The Young Ones when the self-proclaimed People’s Poet Rik asks for a show of raised hands to establish who likes him. The other housemates quickly throw their hands to the floor as if the ground was a magnet and their hands metal. That would have been me with my hands well stuck to the carpet tiles showing my aversion to conversations regarding death, dying and grief. But now…not so much! They would be waving in the air, granted not with glee, but with agreeance towards the need for open chat about death.

What changed my mind? Well, last May in the beautiful setting of the Horsforth Library and Community Hub ballroom in Leeds, we facilitated a Death Café.

We supported the fantastic Leeds Bereavement Forum, who hold many of their Death Café sessions in our libraries. I was quite nervous. Both thoughts of either nobody turning up or loads of people turning up brought on an equal anxiety rush. If there were no attendees, there would be a waste to our efforts. On the other hand, what would it be like to be in a room full of people discussing death?

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Relieved, I can answer that last question with positivity: it was amazing.  We had fifteen people turn up from far and wide. There were many stories, many emotions, and lots of tea, sympathy and hope. There is something so strong and unparalleled about being in the company of many different people sharing different beliefs and experiences around a common theme. A theme that is often thought of as the most difficult to share. My mouth went a little dry; there was tea. My stomach was a little shaky; there was comfort cake. My eyes filled up a few times; we had tissues. I was at loss for words at times but others had some to spare.

So, that is my experience of a Death Café, but how did it go down with those attending?

We had an elderly lady who attended thinking it was a Deaf Café. It was word of mouth misunderstanding. But, you know, she stuck around and she told me afterwards she was so glad she did. “It is what I need at my age,” she happily exclaimed in a quite at peace with the inevitable sort of way.  She made me smile. Smiling at a Death Café! It happens. So does death. Can’t say I am looking forward to it any more than I ever was, but I can talk about it a little easier.

We will certainly enjoy facilitating another Death Café here in the Horsforth Ballroomagain this year during Dying Matters Awareness Week 2019. Show of hands please, May 16th, 10:30-11:30am, who’s ready?  

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