>> PETER WORDEN
How does one approach the hard topic of death? Easy. Start with cake…
Death cafés are a thing now. The idea is simple. It only has two requirements: You must serve tea and cake, and you must talk about death.
No religious agenda. No mandatory bereavement or grief counseling. It’s just once a month eat some cake and chat about death.
“The conversation is different every time,” says Theresa Hamilton, who this spring, hosted her fifth such café. It’s a chance for strangers to share cultural differences surrounding death and discuss taboo subjects, and so people of different ages can learn from one another about a topic we all have in common—loss.
“It’s one of the reasons I love it so much.”
It’s about discussing death openly and honestly without stigma. At their heart, death cafés normalize a topic often considered morbid.
After all, people meet at cafés all the time to discuss jobs, relationships, travel, the minutiae of everyday life “—so why exclude one of the biggest things, which is death?” asks Hamilton.
Today, 6,000-or-so death cafés are hosted across 55 countries.
“It’s part of a global movement and Revelstoke is ready for it,” she says. “I’m humbled by peoples’ participation. That’s what keeps me doing it. Even if we touch on difficult topics, it leaves a good feeling.”
DEATH BACK IN THE DAY
“It’s only been about 60 to 100 years since grandma would lie out on the kitchen table,” says Hamilton, explaining the days when the funeral parlour was actually a person’s living room, and they were surrounded by fancy heirlooms. The body was laid there for three days. The parlour was opposite of the kitchen, so no one had to mourn on an empty belly.
Death factored into all aspects of life. A building’s stairwell, for example, was determined by casket size.
Hamilton says it’s something we don’t talk about openly anymore, probably because we’re not as regularly confronted with death in the same way.
“We’re disconnected on a social level. We associate death with just the medical side.”
“As a society, we lack the practical knowledge of dying. It’s something the funeral industry misses, too. Who’s going to walk your dog? Who has access to your emails? Your passwords?”
There are hundreds of prosaic day-to-day tasks we may forget. Talking about death openly is one way to ensure a smooth exit-plan and maybe pick up some tips along the way, like, for example, do you have a book on the go?—email it to yourself.
In university, Hamilton studied thanatology, the scientific study of death and the practices associated with it. The word is derived from the Greek word ‘thanatos,’ meaning death and dreaming, and historically, the duty of navigating death was the job of a death midwife. Hamilton says she prefers the term ‘death care practitioner’—not death midwife. “You think of a weird lady with weird jewellery, telling people to pay attention to death around them…”
Hamilton plans to some day soon start her own business in the field of hospice care, offering services end-of-life planning.
“I think it’s a vocation for me. I know I’m meant to serve others and this is how I’m supposed to do it.” She hopes having more death practitioners will highlight how much choice we lack when it comes to end-of-life-planing, and we will see a societal shift in how we think about death. “Ideally, I don’t want my job to exist in 30 years.”
With Dose Café (and previously, Sangha Bean owner Krista Manuel) bringing together different ages to talk about death, it all adds up, helping break down social barriers and educate people.
“It’s more than a Death Café circle; it’s people connecting to each other—and who isn’t interested in that?”
Dose Café provides the space, the local Hospice Society sponsors the food and Hamilton donates her time.
Death Café takes place on the last Monday of every month at Dose.