On Saturday, I attended a death cafe. It was a free event, sponsored by the local council and the local cemetery.
I arrived early at the community college and was asked to take a seat while the organiser found out which group I was joining.
It didn't take long before my facilitator. Karen, came to usher me to her room.
Under the window, there was a lovely spread of sandwiches, miniature tarts and delicate macarons.
About a dozen chairs were arranged in a semi-circle with a "goodie bag" on each one.
I took a seat while others milled around, chatting to Karen. One woman, lets call her Ingrid, was at pains to present Karen with a book she had written. My mind went back to a rule of thumb some minister had told me: The first person to come up and speak to a minister on their first day with a new congregation is the one who will be the biggest headache, no matter how nice they seem to be.
The morning soon got underway, there was no agenda or format, it was just a forum to discuss whatever aspects of death concerned us. Karen had a particular emphasis on "getting ducks in a row" with regard to documents such as a will, power of attorney, enduring guardianship and end of life plan.
One woman in her fifties was actively planning for her own death, saying that she didn't want her children to have to make difficult decisions at the end of her life or feel obliged to visit a grave which might be distant from where they lived. I was a little shocked that she was so actively organising an end which might be decades away.
One woman described her experience of coming home to find her mother sitting on the floor with the dog in her lap. Finding her mum's body had been her worst nightmare but when it happened, she found it beautiful.
We spent a while talking about washing the deceased and there was a large focus on not wanting to wash a naked parent. Draping is the very obvious answer to that and I thought we spent a lot of time on something very minor in the scheme of things.
Ingrid talked about her husband's slow death with dementia, she advocated for palliative care at home and then she said "As Christians, we knew where he was going" She repeated that statement many times over the morning and I couldn't help but think she was there to flog the book or the religion or both. I found it rude and ruder when she made a kerfuffle about her early departure: putting on a jacket, collecting her suitcase and waving goodbye with total indifference to the fact that a deep conversation had been in progress.
It was an interesting morning (for the people watching as much as the subject matter) and I left with a better understanding of what services are available, what options there are and what preparations need to be made.
Death cafe is a world wide movement so there might be one near you.