Monday, 4 March 2013

Coffee, cakes and other taboos

There is so much happening in my life that I want to blog about that I can't seem to keep up with the pace. The last week in particular was unusual busy with lots of social interactions, communications and lavish consumptions of coffee and cakes  - no regrets at the time, but oh I do need to address some health (read weight) issues before summer.
So I attended some interesting lectures, one by the artist Cas Holmes for the HVA and one by Hilary Hollingworth for the Embroiderers' Guild. I met up with my textile art friends for our monthly stitch morning, had a very belated yummy X-mas diner at Jamie Oliver's with the members of the HVA Textile group and started my first new yoga class. 

But for now I want to talk about the other taboos...

Sunday, a week ago, we went to visit the last day of the exhibition Death: a self-portrait at the Welcome gallery in London. Not particular inspiring - lots of skulls and skeletons and for me, personally, far removed from any emotional connection to death. The highlight of the visit was meeting up with people of the Society of the Natural Death Centre, whilst drinking coffee and eating cake!

The  Natural Death Centre (NDC) is a charity with a 24 hour helpline, which gave us tremendous inspiration and support in organising Kiama's funeral and life-celebration. They are also working very hard to make people aware of the rights and wrongs of the funeral industry and highlight the importance of talking about death, funerals and our wishes for a 'good' death and funeral. There has been several occasions in the last year that I became painfully aware of the awkwardness some people experience when they try to avoid the subjects of Kiama's death and our grieving. I know people are afraid to upset us, but for me it is so much more upsetting when they even avoid speaking out her name, as if she had never existed. To me there is nothing wrong with openly expressing our emotions, it shows we are human. Also to me, crying and laughing are part of the same coin, so to speak, yet for some reason they are in our western societies not treated as equal acceptable expressions. So through these experiences I have become quite passionate about talking about all kind of matters surrounding the subject of DEATH and volunteer some of my time to support the NDC charity.

Through the Natural Death Centre I learned about a 'new' movement of 'pop up' Death Café's. It sounds a bit morbid and personally I would have preferred a different name, perhaps even keeping the original French name of Café's Mortels. Although, having said that, the English name goes extremely well with the 'Death by Chocolate' cakes, like this gorgeous looking chocolate heart cake by my friend, Gina.

Anyway the idea came from the Swiss sociologist, Bernard Crettaz, who found that several problems in Western societies are attributed to a taboo of talking about death. So he started these café's to help breaking the silence about a subject, we all sooner or later have to deal with.
The Brit, Jon Underwood, who also works for the charity Dying Matters read about this and introduced the English speaking world to the concept of Death Café's, the first of which was in London, in 2011.
Since last November I  have visited 3 Death Café's in London and met all kinds of people from different backgrounds, different ages and with different reasons for attending a Death Café, but we all shared a need and curiosity to talk about death, bereavement, funerals and more.

Some of the interesting people I met was the Australian artist Pia Interlandi who makes Garments for the Grave. She works at a Natural Burial site near Guildford and we are starting to exchange and share some ideas. So who knows where that will lead.
And then there is Sophie Marsden, a final year student in multi-media journalism. She filmed one of the Death Café's I visited and keeps a blog about her project, 'Dying To Talk'.

The atmosphere at a Death café is quite relaxed, respectful and I dare say, even inspirational. I was able to share our story of how we organised Kiama's funeral and life-celebration and also tell people about the poster of her 'My Bucket List' (see my first blog post), which echo's in part the objective of the Death Café:

 "To increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives".

So all this led up to my announcement that I am organising and facilitating 2 Death Café's.
The first one will be on the 7th of April in Hemel Hempstead for which you can find all the details on the Death Café website here.

The other one will be on the 2nd of June at Global Tribe Café in Leeds. Global Tribe Café is a lovely vegetarian/vegan café in the centre of Leeds, which opened 2 months after Kiama's death, on what would have been her 23rd birthday.

It is owned by some very dear friends, who also own the Global Tribe Crystal shop in the same building.
Details for the Death Café there will be announced next month, but if you happen to visit Leeds in the meantime, do go in and enjoy your meal - leaving some room for coffee and cake...


Gina said...

Reading this post Catherina, I realised that it has always been easy for me to speak to you about Kiama but I think that is because you make it seem easy and not something to fear. This has not always been the case with other people so I think you have taught me a valuable lesson. I'll try not to tempt you with chocolate cake next time you are here!

dottycookie said...

This is an incredibly thought provoking post. You're right, we do find it hard to talk about death, for understandable reasons - but we are all going to face it in our lives, many times over. Hmmmm.

mikhail said...

Great article Catherina, i understand how difficult it is for people to manage death and berevement, it is a topic very few have any preparation for. So keep up the good work of breaking these taboo's down, and i look forward to your death cafe in Leeds. Much love to you xx