Last night I attended Death Cafe in Durango because I have a new friend and thought it would be an interesting “first experience together.” Usually I go hiking, but this seemed better because she attends the church where it met.
What is Death Cafe?
Death Cafe is an international event where people “gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death.” Jon Underwood started it in 2010 in his own house:
In 2010 Jon Underwood decided to develop a series of projects about death one of which was to focus on talking about death. In November Jon read about the work of Bernard Crettaz in the Independent newspaper. Inspired by Bernard’s work, Jon immediately decided to use similar model for his own project, and Death Cafe was born.
Death Cafe Durango
The attendees at our gathering took places at large round tables after selecting desserts and beverages. Directions for talking were similar to “passing the talking stick”–one person speaks at a time, and cross-talk, comments, or asking questions were not allowed. We were also given talking prompts:
- Death Talk
- Life Talk and Overcoming Obstacles
In our group, the new priest described her Chaplin experience with the dying in glowing terms, as if it were something we should all eagerly anticipate. A nurse presented a very different perspective. Others told personal stories, like the gal whose husband died in the ambulance while she was in a different vehicle because she was not allowed to share the ambulance. Another one had an elderly relative who was told many times she was dying . . . but did not (until she did). Some people “passed the stick” and I shared my experience about my best friend dying without me.
The hostess clarified this to mean “From the perspective of your deathbed, what are you glad you did?” One was grateful for the Christian life she’d led–her participation in her church, following the teachings, treating others as she would like to be treated. The new priest was grateful that, at retirement age, she’d finally followed “the call.” Several were happy that they’d done the work they’d chosen, and that they had given it their best. One was happy to have relocated from a big, noisy city to her peaceful home here.
Having thought quite a bit about my life and wondering what, if anything, I was grateful for having chosen–not the same as being grateful for–I was prepared. None of my personal accomplishments (the stuff of resumes) mattered. Instead, what grabbed my attention in that moment were (1) choosing to come back from death at age nineteen, (2) choosing to take a two-year walkabout, even though I might have lost my job for doing it, and (3) finally giving myself permission to do only what pleases me from now on. (The trick is learning to love everything–all of it.)
I died on the operating table but had a choice to go back if I chose. Some people say it was a “near-death experience”. But could it be a “near death” experience when the doctor told me that he’d declared me dead? When asked by someone from the other side if I wanted to stay or go back, I chose to come back to ease their pain (the ones who were so sad at my leaving) and spent the next fifty years essentially making sure everyone else was okay–until I nearly had to quit my job from the strain. (If you’re laughing out loud, you’ve advanced your spiritual growth.)
The two-year walkabout was a life-changing event including learning from Huichol Indian shamans, living in a different country, and acquiring healthy practices like yoga, improved diet, and meditation–definitely a milestone choice and a major exercise in faith (surrender with a capital “S”) considering that I left with $1,000 and no plans whatsoever. (Please read Rethinking the Law of Attraction and BURNOUT: How a desert lizard restored my faith.)
It wasn’t the adventure–discovering that I had a brain aneurysm and having it “fixed”–that enabled me to dump forever the workaholic lifestyle I’d lived most of my life, but it was definitely part of that Cosmic Thump. Instead, it was practicing “doing without doing,” a spiritual concept about the way one does, while I was digging up all the lilies in the yard, laying path stones and spreading wood chips, overseeing refurbishing of an apartment after a nine-year tenant who relocated to live with her sweetheart, and trying to get rid of thirty-five year’s accumulated stuff living in the same place. It’s “walking in both worlds at the same time,” said the shaman.
On the evaluation form for this particular Death Cafe we were asked to write three words about it. I wrote, “A good beginning.”
What about you? What has been your experience of death? What are your current feelings about death? Could you identify something you’re very glad you’ve done from the perspective of your death-bed?