There is a movement afoot across the planet. Since surfacing in England only a year and a half ago, news has spread from Europe to cities in America, Canada and Australia. Who would have thought that so many people would be so eager to talk about death–but they are.
Since the beginning of recorded history, people have come together with other members of their tribe or village to discuss matters important to the progress of their community. Tribal councils, town hall meetings, Greek symposia, European salons–all are examples of forums designed to give citizens a voice. Many ideas and movements for social change or personal transformation have been born in these types of gatherings.
Using the salon model, Swiss sociologist and death café pioneer Bernard Crettaz began to gather interested adults together in 2004 with the mission of “bringing death out of silence”. In 2011, Jon Underwood held the first official British Death Café in his home. The idea is simple–bring together a small group of interested people to talk openly about death over tea and crumpets. More information about the guidelines for setting up your own salon can be found at Jon’s website.
Most cafés are offered by hospice workers, therapists, or experienced group facilitators.They are not to be used for profit so most are free. There are no hidden motives or agendas, no beliefs or religious dogmas, no goal of moving participants to any given conclusion. The objective is to provide a safe, respectful place to allow people to look death–and therefore life–in the eye.
Once it gets started, the conversation can take many different directions. Sometimes the subjects are practical, discussing wills or funeral arrangements; sometimes people share near-death experiences or conversations with loved ones who have died; sometimes people prefer just to listen–too frightened to break the taboo of silence but grateful to have the opportunity.
After being originally drafted in 1996 for Florida, the Five Wishes document, which combines a living will with end of life decisions about comfort and care, was made nationally available in 1998, after consultation from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging and leading medical experts. Now available in 27 languages, more than 18 million documents have been distributed by a network of over 35,000 partner organizations worldwide including an online version introduced in April 2011. The popularity of this important document is growing. It includes:
You first choose a health care representative or power of attorney to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to speak for yourself.
This part details your living will, allowing you to spell out when you would or would not want different kinds of life support or other medical treatments.
In this section, you describe what type of pain management you want, personal grooming and bathing instructions, and any other types of care such as massage, specific music or books you would like read to you and whether you would like to have hospice care.
This section allows you to address any other personal matters not covered in the previous wish, such as whether you want someone to be with you whenever possible, whether you want your church or loved ones praying with or for you, and whether you want to die at home if possible.
This section allows you to share any final thoughts with your family. You can address what your life and death meant to you, share regrets or requests for forgiveness, and explain how you wish to be remembered, including funeral or memorial plans.
Reports of near-death experiences have been flooding the media. Proof of Heaven, the first-hand account by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander has been at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list for almost 40 straight weeks. Heaven is for Real, another bestseller, is the true story of the NDE of a 4 year-old boy who gives his parents details of his deceased great-grandfather, including facts he had no way of knowing.
There are also several recent books that brink us up to date on the information collected on this topic since Raymond Moody first coined the term in the 1970′s. His seminal work, Life After Life, marked the beginning of a change in the way we view death and dying, selling over 13 million copies worldwide. Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences by Jeffrey Long and Paul Perry, in their review of thousands of cases to date, present a compelling argument for the underlying truth behind these first-hand stories.
“There is currently more scientific evidence to the reality of near death experience (NDE) than there is for how to effectively treat certain forms of cancer,” states Long, a radiation oncologist, in his new book. Dr. Long and his wife, Jody, began the Near Death Experience Research Foundation with the goal of creating a forum for near death “experiencers” to share their stories. There are newly emerging stories of Shared Death Experiences bringing comfort and insight to the dying and their loved ones.
There was a time in not so distant America when dying was not hidden from the community. Everyone died at home, surrounded by family–usually with grandchildren. Bodies were washed and prepared for burial by loved ones. Death and dying–although often not pretty–were a normal and inevitable part of the life cycle.
Since death isn’t going away any time soon, let’s start by talking about it again. Openly. Honestly. Over tea and crumpets.
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Last reviewed: 9 Jul 2013