Death Café visits the Valley

Dawn Cruchet (standing) addresses Death Café participants

Death Café came to the Valley on May 30 as facilitators Dawn Cruchet, Grief Educator and Counsellor, and Karen Wagner, Clinical Director of Madawaska Valley Hospice Palliative Care, welcomed 17 participants to the Ash Grove Inn to discuss death and dying. Cruchet introduced the evening with the Death Café tagline:

The more we talk about death and dying, the more we learn about life and living.

She gave the background of the worldwide movement, saying Death Cafés have spread quickly across Europe, North America and Australasia. There have been more than 6,400 Death Cafés in 56 countries since September 2011. The Death Café model was developed by UK residents Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz. Its objective is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

A Death Café is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session. Cruchet explained that she had suggested the idea to Wagner because she believes as a “death-denying society” we tend to avoid direct discussions about death and often fail to plan appropriately. The participants introduced themselves. Some memorable comments during the introduction:

  • The dying are the dignified. We’re the ones that have the problem.
  • Everyone should write their own obituary – we know how we want to be remembered.
  • How do we answer when someone asks us, “Am I dying?”
  • Some people turn up at hospice with no preparation at all: no Power of Attorney and no Will.

Participants then broke into small discussion groups. Because each group was composed of different individuals with their own unique experiences, the conversation varied widely. The Ash Grove Inn provided the room free of charge and in keeping with the café theme, their staff took orders for dessert and coffee. I was soon privileged to share in a moving, personal discussion. The group I joined discussed the importance of not relieving a dying person of all responsibilities, but instead giving the person some choices to make or jobs to do in order to help maintain control and feel independent. People who know they face death are given the opportunity to prepare. Participants talked about specific techniques to help cope with fears. The discussion moved on to how we now live in “mean” times when people do not relate to each other as individuals on a personal level; for example, texting instead of speaking.

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Death Café Renfrew County on Facebook

The evening ended with positive feedback from the participants. Cruchet says they plan to host another Death Café in the fall. For more information, please click HERE to see the Renfrew County Death Café Facebook page.

For background on the Death Café movement, please click HERE to visit the deathcafe.org website.

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