According to Governmental, main-stream media and even some religious party-lines, we are ‘at war’ not just with Covid-19, but with death itself. Of course, it is essential to take responsibility for ourselves while the pandemic burns itself out, to pay homage to those working on the ‘front-line’ and to grieve those who have died. But it seems to me that this rhetoric is feeding on our fear of death as a way of controlling us – as it has done for centuries.
Sue in conversation with Jools Barsky, co-founder of the Death Cafe movement about how Death Cafes help us to live consciously for a better world.
Jools is 32 and the sister of Jon Underwood whose inspiration and vision created the global Death Cafe movement. Jon died suddenly in 2017 of an undiagnosed cancer. Jools works in the health care industry and volunteers her time free to Death Cafe alongside her and Jon’s Mum, Susan Barsky Reid, to ensure Jon’s legacy continues to benefit us all.
Right from the start a distinct theme emerged, which focused on preparing for death.
“I would like to know the day and hour of my death,’ said one participant. ‘I like being in control, and knowing this would mean that I could prepare myself.’
‘Yes,’ said someone else, ‘I realise I have a lot of clearing to do. I have far too much stuff. I don’t want to leave a mess behind for my family to cope with. It’s not fair on them. I really need to get on with it.’
We were all in agreement about the importance of clearing out what we no longer need. One participant, who had cared for her terminal ill sister in the last weeks of her life, told us of how her sister prepared for death. ‘She wanted to deal with anything that she felt was stopping her from being at peace. Having terminal cancer really focused her mind, and it was if she ticked things off as she planned how she was going to die. She knew her husband and daughter were trying to ignore what was going on, so she was determined to do it herself.’
This pop-up was co-hosted by Julienne McLean, a psychologist and Jungian analyst and spiritual director, based in north London. Julienne works with clients who experience bereavement issues throughout life.
Up until now, people who come to the pop-up death cafes have been personally interested in end of life care, or have family and friends who have died or who are dying.
Coincidentally, those who came to the pop-up at Kings Cross were all professionals in their own field who used creativity to help people to talk more openly about end of life issues.
So this café had a very different feel to it even though it was just as interesting and rewarding as the previous ones.
One participant had worked with a children’s bereavement charity for many years, and wanted to work more directly with the dying.
One was part of a theatre company, researching for a potential project about the issues surrounding dignity in dying,
One was a television producer, researching for a three part series on end of life issues, including assisted dying.
One ran a training programme for volunteers in North London, which empowers communities to plan for the final years of life.
One worked for Age UK as a project manager, coordinating volunteers and organisations to have conversations around putting plans in place for end of life.
I am thrilled to be setting off on my narrrowboat Mystic Moon this April to offer pop-up death cafes along the river and canal systems throughout the spring and summer months.
I am passionate about helping people to talk more honestly and openly about end of life issues, and equally passionate about the UK’s inland waterways.
So, it’s a perfect combination.
I am also 62, fit and healthy, but I realise unless I do it now, the opportunity to fulfill this long-time dream will disappear.
I have no idea what lies in store. But it’s fun (and a trifle scary) to have this golden opportunity to throw myself open to whatever may happen. So, I will be blogging about my adventures, and also about the pop-up death cafes.
Mystic Moon is a beautiful 50 foot 1995 vintage Braidbar narrrowboat, lovingly cared for by her previous owner. He reluctantly sold her to me as he had recently remarried and needed more space for joint children and grandchildren. I am so grateful to him for his kindness and generosity during the sale, and delighted that he was so pleased to learn about the pop-up death cafes.
I will be starting from Bradford on Avon (where Mystic Moon is currently moored), offering the first pop-up café on the Bradford on Avon wharf below the lock, on Thursday 9th April, between 2.30 – 4.20. (Please email me to book a place) This pop-up café will be co-hosted by Liz Rothschild, funeral celebrant, green burial manager, and director of Oxford’s Kicking the Bucket Festival.
I will be in London during May, and moving up to the Grand Union via the beautiful Oxford Canal during June, so give me a wave if you see me trundling along on Mystic Moon.
If you would like to book a place for a pop-up death café, do email me for locations and dates. Please note that Death Cafes are not recommended for those who have been recently bereaved. Please also be aware that coming aboard will be entirely at your own risk, and access for those who are disabled is very limited.
For more information about the cafes, please go to the Death Café website.
Depending on the location of Mystic Moon and safe access, you can book Mystic Moon for a pop-up Death Café near you, or I am happy to run them on shore. Just get in touch.