Death café: what do Londoners think?

Death. The subject has an attached, eternal taboo. As soon as we hear the word we get that anxious feeling in the pit of our stomach. It represents sadness, tears, loss and the unexpected.

The fact of the matter is death itself is inevitable, so shouldn’t talking about it more play a fundamental part in society?

Creator of the Death café, Jon Underwood says the aim of the venue is to increase the awareness of death.

Strangers have tea and cake, like any other café, but they can only talk about death.

Not everyone shares the same views. Some people are extremely optimistic about what happens on the other side. They see death as the next chapter of life.

With a Death café soon opening in London. We talked to some Londoners from a number of age groups and asked them what their thoughts are on death, and what they think is going to happen to them once they die.

TOM

Death, the act of dying, I think it’s a transformation; [a] transformation period. I believe that I think when we die we get reincarnated. I reckon that actually dying and the whole process itself is just something that, I can’t remember who it was but someone was talking about it [death] and what do you remember before you were born? [and] I was like that’s a good point you don’t remember being in the womb but there’s more, your like alive at that point; by law after a certain amount of weeks. But I thought that when you die do you go to nothingness. Or is it like before you were born where you’re like you are, sort of alive but you don’t remember where you are?

But what I think about death is that death is inconsequential, its just gonna happen isn’t it. I can’t remember again who said a quote probably someone from a comic book movie. They were saying something about death and you know, people aren’t really afraid of death when they say their not scared of dying it’s just the pain, it’s about dying in pain. I think death is weird because it makes you realise your so human, [points to heart] as soon as that stops pumping, you’re heart, you’re not alive anymore.

I mean it’s not something everyone talks about everyday, with all the grandparents that have died, we don’t talk about the day they died. It is a bit of a taboo subject, you’re not gonna get many parents encouraging their kids to be talking about death and sort of embracing what that is at all. We’re just so happy being alive, it’s not something that we want to think about even on a daily basis or ever. I don’t think about myself dying very often unless it’s some sort of very crazy paranoia [laughs], like shit I might be dying – heart is pumping too fast. We’re not really supposed to focus on it too much socially but also I think it’s not something humans wanna do because of ourselves anyways to naturally think about the process of dying.

ALEXANDRA

For me death is something obvious that we must all be prepared for. I know people who are scared of death, but I’m not that kind of person, I don’t really think about it and of course when you experience death from people that you like, you know I kind of come back to reality. Because when you speak with people and spend time with them you feel like its normal, and you don’t even realise that your human, that your someone that can die and then when the person dies your like we’re animals, you know. Anything can happen. It’s quite scary to understand when it happens to you; closely like to your friends or family. But for myself I try to not think about it.

SHAQUAN

Everyone is gonna die. Everyone is gonna die it’s inevitable for us, we live our lives and that one thing we have in common is death. I think [the fear of death] has been drummed into us from like fairytales, they always tell us to think about ever lasting life and stuff, really for the near future it’s impossible for us, like the only thing in life that is certain is death at the moment. I think you should just live your life, [and] do what you want.

Everyone in their deathbed they always talk about their regrets and you might as well live your life with no regrets – just do what you want.

Me personally I don’t care what people think, I just like to live my life and just turn up all the time. I think religion puts this, you gotta do this if you want to get into heaven etc. I’ve never heard of a dead man speak about where he is right now, so we’ve all sinned and if we all sin were all going to go to the same place at the end of the day I guess.

SUE

We have two guaranteed experiences during our life-time. One is to be born. The other is to die. Everything else is the sandwich in between.  In our modern world, which is addicted to youth, glamour, and celebrity status, people are not encouraged to think about death and dying as part of their life experience, so death is hidden away or pushed under the carpet.

The unknown always makes us afraid.  We are also living in a culture that seems to regard death as a failure. It’s almost not allowed, so every death is regarded as a tragedy rather than part of our life’s journey. The media is full of these over dramatised stories, and that’s where most people get their information.

But I do think things are now changing.  In my experience, a lot of people want and need to talk about end of life issues.  Those who do engage with their mortality seem to live much more fulfilled and meaningful lives.  By confronting the fact they are going to die means they want to make the best use of the life they have. I think this helps us to develop peace of mind and makes us more aware of our humanity.

BEN

When I think of death, I think of fear cause that’s the end and that’s a bit of a worry. I think for me, it’s quite a natural thing I know it’s going to happen, it’s unavoidable so why do I need to talk about it and think about it, I’d rather not have it around me and guess, when it happens that’s that.

You see, like, a lot of young people dying a lot and that’s the thing that gets picked up in newspapers and social media and things like that. So, I think that it’s becoming more prevalent that more people are aware of it. Its almost like there is a presence all the time now. There’s always somebody dying somewhere.; it’s going to be in the newspapers. Someone who is your age who’s died. So, I think [death] its always around, but yeah I suppose it has been exemplified by the fact that when it happens it’s such as big thing for people.

I think we’re just very privileged that it’s a big thing for it to happen here, it’s probably an everyday occurrence in certain places which is horrible to think about but it makes you think how lucky we are.

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Click picture to see original interactive infographic or visit https://infogr.am/total_deaths_in_england_and_wales_05_feb_16_to_04_mar_16

FRAN

I wonder about death. Having spent years working with people who have died and their bereaved families I am very good at dealing with death for other people, but I am increasingly curious about what my death will be like.

I don’t actually know what I believe – I’ve flirted with various belief systems over the years and have settled on a vaguely shamanic approach to life and death as being one eternal continuum, but I still don’t know how I will approach the end of my days in this body. I’m curious, not afraid, but just curious about what dying will actually be like. And, the concept of consciousness extending after this life has ended is something that is so huge I can’t quite wrap my thoughts around it, although it does appeal!

Someone asked me once where I was the year before I was born – I couldn’t answer that, in the same way I can’t answer with any lucidity how I feel about death.

And yes, it’s inevitable, and yes, we perhaps should think of death in a positive light, but our society is a death denying society where youth and vigour is venerated, old age and frailty is to be feared and death is the ultimate failure of the medical profession. I wish we held the values of ancient societies where old age and wisdom were honoured, and death was something to anticipate as a transition to a new existence, but organised religions have got hold of that thought and I have an aversion to any kind of dogma.

Death is what makes life so precious – and life is extraordinarily precious. Our existence as a small sentient being on a lump of rock hurtling through one of the millions of galaxies within the universe is so unlikely and so random that the fact we exist at all and have the rationality and awareness to consider it is awesome. I guess basically I think I’m lucky to have this life, so the ending of it will be as important as the rest of it. Well, it will to me anyway, although I have no idea whether it will affect the grand scheme of things. Whatever that might be!

CARL

Personally it’s something that scares me and is probably something I avoid thinking about, I think most people pretend that it’s not gonna happen and then it actually happens. Every now and then I tend to think about it in terms of… I don’t know. I actually used to work for the Beatle’s record label, apple, and we worked on a film about George Harrison [George Harrison was a singer. Hinduism and meditation played a large part in his life; he actually studied meditation] and he had a very strong spiritual belief and a lot of his life was based on sort of preparing for the moment to die, and that always had a profound affect on me. I always think that you know it would be amazing if we could all work towards thinking about it in a more honest way and not being scared of it.

I don’t think anyone is ever ready to face death it’s such a huge thing, I think losing people, like I’ve lost people who are close to me and people who have lost their parents at a young age, and going through that experience with people and yourself, that gives you more of an insight into it, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I think time a cliché as always, makes it easier.

ALEXANDRA

For me death is something obvious that we must all be prepared for. I know people who are scared of death, but I’m not that kind of person, I don’t really think about it and of course when you experience death from people that you like, you know I kind of come back to reality. Because when you speak with people and spend time with them you feel like its normal, and you don’t even realise that your human, that your someone that can die and then when the person dies your like were animals – you know. Anything can happen. It’s quite scary to understand when it happens to you – closely like to your friends or family. But for myself I try to not think about it.

DOMINIC

I think [death] it’s a really good motivation. There is an end. Otherwise it would be really boring to live wouldn’t it? You need some sort of border otherwise you just walk along and never arrive to anything. Everything would be pointless [without death]. There are religions where you get reborn, so death is not a big deal or religions where you go to heaven or hell, which is eternal so it is quite a big deal – I guess. I just want to see it actually. I’m looking forward to what it actually is. But I don’t believe in it [heaven or hell].

After, [death] there should be nothing; it’s a sad thing.

JANE

The importance that it can happen any time, and how to deal with it especially with ageing parents, how to face it, how to help them face it. Not to be afraid, to accept it. Not to worry about ageing and all these things that we really have not control over and just to enjoy life in the moment.

The biggest misconceptions of death are that it is something to be scared of strangely, but dying is scary, I think that’s what people are really scared of, but not to worry about what comes next cause you can’t control it. The actual dying may not be beautiful perhaps, but were not alone in life and were not alone in death.

 

 


Featured image by Clever cupcakes via Flickr CC