Last night I went to my first Death Cafe. It was hosted by my lovely friend Jane Diamond who trained in psychotherapy and has a deep thoughtfulness about the way we perceive and deal with death in this country.
It was a very enriching experience. The session began with a brief introduction of why we were all there and I found myself wondering what I was doing there. I have grieved the deaths of various family members but I wasn’t there in the capacity of someone who needed to talk about their loved ones who had passed on. Rather, for me, it was the desire to talk about death and dying and how to live.
I’m a fairly spiritual person. Even as a child I would consider the implications of death and its finality (and feel slightly sick and well, terrified at the thought) but also I sensed a very certain and comforting oneness. When my own children were born I felt a connection to my own long lineage which must interconnect with so many people I’ve never met. I went from being the end of the thread to just one part of the thread which my children presently end…. I hope they will become part of it, even if it means knotting up with other people’s threads and not lengthening their own….
I find a deep sense of peace at this thought. My youngest child had asked me just the day before the Death Cafe, ‘when am I going to die?’. I couldn’t give her an answer but I did say one day we’ll all go back to the earth and who knows what will happen from there…. We are an ever-evolving species and just one tiny part of life. I just find that mind blowing.
After our introductions we split into groups and chatted for an hour or so. There were endless questions in my head that I could have discussed but I followed the flow of the conversation. There was grief and people volunteered their stories and how they coped or didn’t cope with loved ones dying. How they coped and interacted with other family members who were coping with the death of the loved one. There were two strong examples of people who really felt lost after the death of their life partner. It was such a stimulating topic. How wonderful to feel that your life is complete with another person who you love. How sad not to be able to feel fullness though when that person is no longer there with you. It was a thought-provoking night.
What really came up for me was the differences in how people live and how people experience others. How some have a definite sense of the self and others are diluted into another being.
No way seemed better than another but each had its own merits. I felt the pain and anger and frustration that others held because their loved ones had passed on. I tried to gauge the support those people had received after the deaths but couldn’t quite pin it down. In this society we have a funeral – which has to be organised often in a blaze of shock soon after death. Then there is mourning – but for how long? Who helps? Who understands and guides us through that process? We have no protocol here… a few days off work, a few weeks if you have a compassionate boss. When does the pain go? Is it meant to go? When does the grief come out? Will it ever stop?
Of course they say time heals all but listening to the stories last night I wonder if we as humans are just meant to show we can carry on but the hurt still resides in the heart. As a few people talked of their widows, they welled up. They cried. Are we ever counselled as to how to deal with our hurt?
I have been interested in the work of Stephen Jenkinson for a while now and have considered training in Death Midwifery, or Soul Midwifery as it’s also known (perhaps a nicer term…).
Leaving the Death Cafe last night I was in no doubt that there is a great gulf in the area of healing grief. Of understanding death both philosophically and personally.
I am now looking more and more into this aspect of healing …. I will let you know how I get on. In the apothecary I often see patients who have lost partners or children or friends or parents. It is always presented as a part of whatever condition also presents. We work together to nourish that person – the one still here dealing with the grief. Herbs are amazing for this but so is knowledge…. this is what I seek to delve into more deeply.