Acknowledging Death with a Cup of Tea

Discussing death in the United Kingdom was previously considered a taboo topic, despite its inevitability for everyone. Death has always been and will be, an event in which one finds themselves experiencing first hand and/or through friends and family, yet discussing it openly is not socially ‘correct’. This attitude of not addressing the topic both before and after it has occurred is slowly shifting as discussed in the article ‘Anyone for Tea and Sympathy? Death Cafes Embrace Last Taboo’ by Harriet Sherwood. Originating in London, death cafes have begun appearing in various countries to provide a safe space in which one can discuss anything relating to death (pre or post). These cafes are an innovative and well intentioned idea in my opinion as they bring about a topic that most people do not feel comfortable talking to with other people or feel wrong for even bringing up in fear being the harbinger of dark subjects. The ability to be in a safe space to talk to complete strangers (or friends) allows people to explore topics they may not have even thought about, such as after death procedures and preferences.  Death cafes are able to bring light and perhaps more lighthearted talk, on morbid issues and help to reduce the stigma and fear that permeates the process of dying. Unlike a wake and more like an AA meeting, people are able to participate at their own leisure and structure their meetups like an open forum.

In addition to death cafes, the topic of death is also being embraced through conventions such as the Ideal Death Show and websites like Final Fling. The convention weekend of ‘celebration’ for death is designed with the intention of allowing people to explore after death options such as customized urns/coffins, types of bereavement, discussion panels and other ways in which to handle death in a healing fashion rather than a silenced mourning. Websites like Final Fling are designed to allow people to set up basic procedures surrounding death and helping with their end-of-life planning. Conventions, end-of-life websites, and death cafes are meant to embrace the losses people may have experienced through death by acknowledging it as well as providing persons with company who share a similar loss. They all three also serve to reclaim one’s individual preferences and conceptions from the professionals who have inadvertently (or intentionally) designed the hushed, coveted treatments of the dead.

It is unclear where this growing acknowledgment of death in everyday lives and public spheres arose but there are a few theories presented in the article. Some believe it derives from the baby boomer generation currently aging and beginning to face their large mortality rate. Others claim the openness is required due to the reduction of religious guidance (influences from the church) and beliefs of afterlife. Another theory is that is has become more socially acceptable to be ‘vulnerable’ in public versus stoic. I agree more with the last theory however, that people are rejecting the “power dynamics of death and dying” and seeking to have more self-determination in societies where we have cleanly organized and dictated how death should be confined and treated. Humans are curious by nature and the idea to challenge common conventions and discuss taboo topics such as death in a previously thought of “happy space” appeals to them.

The article ends with the thoughts that discussing death is not the same as wishing for it- a notion that previously preoccupied minds and is actively being altered through specific measures in order to reduce its taboo status. Additionally, that by addressing death openly, humans are accepting its inevitability, which I think is a step in the right direction in order for healing to take place as well as for people to become more comfortable with end-of-life decisions that are extremely difficult for the survivors to handle without guidance.

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