Taking Death Café to Colourfest 2018
Death café has been presented and offered at different festivals before. This was Colourfest’s first Death Café and my first time running one at a festival, so I was so delighted to be hosting this one. This festival is described as “A dynamic, beautiful and constantly evolving gem of a gathering celebrating life through connection, ceremony, yoga, dance, music, art, theatre and playfulness.”
I was scheduled for Friday and Saturday. On Friday twenty or so people arrived; the indoor venue room that we were scheduled was not appropriate to use and I was asked to move to the tiny bar which was in fact too small. Unfortunately, a couple of people left and or didn’t stay as they popped in, whilst the others were ok to continue in the compact space.
I began with a minute’s silence to remember those who have gone before and then followed with an introduction of myself and how death cafés began, the purpose of them and then an encouragement to discuss any aspect around death and dying. I suggested that the conversations could be held in small clusters of about three to four small groups. I provided a selection of herbal teas as I thought this would be the most simple method, along with some biscuits.
In essence, there was a mixed age range and I think the majority of people had never been to a death café before, however, it was well received and the conversations were flowing freely. Some had experienced a close family member or friend dying and were recounting their experience of that time and others had no first-hand experience, however, it seemed that all wanted the opportunity to be in a discussion group around death.
A question was posed re mediumship versus the soul being reincarnated and how can the two approaches to the spirit or soul co-exist? Another spoke about their experience attending a funeral in Thailand for a local person and the cultural differences, in which gambling at funerals seemed to be a given and part of the ritual and in addition lighting of string fire rope which travelled the site and finished at setting the cremator/body alight!
Near the end of our session, a woman said that she was inspired to start a death café in her own area, which is very positive indeed.
In the lounge area close to the bar and dining room I had put information leaflets from Dying Matters and Marie Curie and had a blackboard up with part of a sentence: ‘Before I die I want to …. ‘ with chalk available to use. On my return, the blackboard already had a few statements written on it. The following day the blackboard was full of interesting comments, however, it also had a graffito of a penis on it, which I felt a little disappointed by.
For the death café itself, I managed to secure the dining room which was far more spacious and I felt drawn to stay in one large group, as the numbers were small, however more people drifted in and the number exceeded over 23/25, despite this we remained in the large group as people already had begun to introduce themselves.
Saturday’s café was also lovely. I believe all except one had never attended a death café before. Those who attended were pleased this was taking place or intrigued to be discussing death and also there was a significant number of people who were in grief, in particular one with a recent and unexpected sudden death and another with a longer term grief. Hence there seemed to be quite a bit of sadness in the group generally along with intrigue and interest. We also touched on euthanasia and the seemingly insufficient end of life training that doctors receive. For both sessions, I ended with my usual minute’s silence to complete.
In conclusion, the cafés were a good call to be on the festival programme and I hope there will be future opportunities. Colourfest is a delightful festival with a beautiful energy. Death is part of our life cycle, therefore to include death cafés alongside inspirational, healing workshops and the general festive spirit is a welcome aspect to the mix.