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Death Cafe

Our regular contributor shares his experience of visiting a Death Cafe in London

Weariness, which wants to reach the ultimate with a single leap, with a death leap, a poor ignorant weariness, which no longer wants even to want: that created all gods and afterworlds.

Friedrich Nietzsche (2003:59)

 

There is only one absolute certainty in life and that is death. We are all mortal and thus, we shall all die. Yet paradoxically, despite the fact that this is one of the few truths we really can be sure of, we ignore it with all our might.

 

We know that death awaits us all but we rarely talk openly about this fact. We euphemise. We talk about “when we’re gone” and “passing away”. We speculate about life after death but whether or not the afterlife exists, the mere fact that we even have the debate is because we know we’re going to die.

 

For Nietzsche, talk of God and life after death was a means of avoiding the terrifying truth of death, often at the expense of living authentically in this plane of existence. In this respect, it seems that he had a point.

 

For some people, the fear of death is seemingly so overwhelming, that they live their lives on the basis that it will continue indefinitely in the future. Taking “morality” out of the question for a second, they use the notion of an afterlife to negate the fear of this one ending. The problem with this is arguably that if we treat this life as a stopgap and ignore the potential finality of death, we could be preventing true happiness in the now.

 

Imagine my surprise then, to discover that there are groups for people who have taken this idea on board. Yes, “Death Cafes”, started in 2011 by Jon Underwood, a London-based web developer, are now springing up all across the globe and the purpose of these aptly named places is for people to confront this idea head on, without the fear of breaking one of life’s great social taboos. The following is my experience of a Death Cafe.

 

I found out about Death Cafes from the man who is giving me counselling as a part of my own counselling training. The concept was as alien to me as it surely is for many people reading this article but, as someone who is fascinated by existentialism, how I could ignore this intriguing phenomenon?

 

Even though the concept sounded fairly straight forward, I still wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I turned up. My imagination was painting pictures of pale-faced Goths and beret-clad students talking in hushed tones about the futility of life, so imagine my delight when my initial preconception was blown away within minutes, once I discovered how friendly the atmosphere actually was. Certainly, everyone had come to talk about death but it felt to me to be in the spirit of openness and a willingness to share other people’s experiences as much as their own.

 

The event I attended was being run by a psychotherapist and it would be unfair to talk too much about what other people had to say, given that much of it seemed deeply personal. However, here’s an anecdote that sums up just how little the evening met my preconceptions (in a positive way). One woman asked me whether or not I believed in life after death. I confessed to being a reluctant atheist and struggling with a belief in an afterlife. “You should learn about quantum physics” she replied. According to this fascinating woman, quantum physics and neuroscience are doing more to reconcile Western science with Eastern teachings than any other philosophy she had read. I can’t comment on the truth of this but it encapsulates the level of diversity of thought that was present throughout the evening. Far from being a forum for arguing over whose beliefs are right, this was a place to freely exchange ideas without judgement or conflict.

 

Paradoxically perhaps, Death Cafes promote living life to its fullest by acknowledging the simple but often ignored fact that life is finite. At the event I attended, the finer details as to what death truly means for the individual varied but in a way which was so free of competition and one-upmanship that it actually restored a little bit of my faith in humanity.

 

I left feeling a strange mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I felt a sense of melancholy, as perhaps is inevitable when being confronted with one’s own mortality. For me though, this melancholy was mixed with the feeling of being uplifted – I will die one day but with that knowledge comes a reminder of the fact that I am alive now.

 

I was more motivated than usual the week after my visit to the Death Cafe and soon booked my place at another. One cannot truly live without understanding that one will die - it’s one of the few certainties that life has to offer and how we choose to deal with this truth is up to us.

 

REFERENCES

•Nietzsche, Friedrich (2003) Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Penguin Classics, Great Britain.

 

For more information on Death Cafes, visit www.deathcafe.com

 

Photo courtesy of Death Cafe

 

Dan Barnett

About the Writer

Dan is in his late 20s, lives in Croydon and is training as a counsellor.

 

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