Death Café – yes, really!

cakeDespite its morbid name, the Death Café that was held last week at Heart of the Campus was an excellent event. Attended by a great variety of people including students, staff and members of a range of organisations in Sheffield whose work is associated with end of life issues, the event offered a meaningful way to start the much-needed dialogue on the issue of death.

death cafe 3Initiated by St. Luke’s Hospice and the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, this event was vibrant, fun and interesting with a number of activities for people to take part in.

There were a range of workshops, games, stalls, a film by the celebrated photographer Rankin, and a play performed by Sheffield Hallam drama students on the subject of death. Members of the Student Wellbeing team went along to support the work and find out more, here is what they said:

Contrary to how it might sound, the Death Café was by no means a morbid or sombre affair; quite the opposite, it was friendly, inclusive, welcoming and varied. The event offered plenty of food for thought about dealing with the inevitability of death and dying in an open, sincere and remarkably positive way. The Death Café provided a space for both personal reflection and collaborative, supportive discussion. I found the performance element to be particularly powerful and thought provoking. Jozef Sen, Wellbeing Advisor

This was a fascinating event designed to generate thinking and discussion about the subject of death – something which will come to all of us but which so often gets pushed under the carpet. Death Café helped remove some of the taboo, and showed that talking about death is a perfectly natural thing to do.  Ian Maher, Multifaith Chaplaincy Co-ordinator

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(Left to right) Judith Park, Deputy Chief Executive of St Luke’s Hospice; Ursula Klingel, Head of Student Wellbeing; Ian Maher, Multifaith Chaplaincy Co-ordinator.

 

A matter of life and death

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Dying is, perhaps, one of the great taboos of Western society and yet is one of two things that every human being has in common: We are born and we die. All that happens in between is what defines our unique humanity but these things two things are givens.

And yet thinking about our own death is often pushed to the back of our minds to such an extent that we live in a state of denial with regard to our own mortality.

Facing up to the fact that one day we will die is, however, not a morbid preoccupation but something which, paradoxically, can enable us to appreciate more fully the life we have – whatever our beliefs about what happens after death might be.

Pope Paul VI (1897-1978) expressed that idea as follows:

Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011), the late co-founder of Apple, wrote this after discovering that his death was to come sooner than expected – he died aged 56:

. . . almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

And Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933), American short-story writer, poet and essayist, put it this way:

Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live

Death Café Event

As part of Dying Matters Awareness Week, here at Sheffield Hallam the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing’s Palliative and End of Life Supportive Care Interest Group, are hosting a Death Café event. This will take place on Thursday May 21 between 11am and 2pm at Heart of the Campus, Collegiate Crescent.

There will be opportunity to meet with local healthcare providers and charities, including information about organ donation, solicitors and funeral directors. I will also be there in my role as university chaplain and as a Christian priest. There will be lots of practical advice to help you talk openly about death, tea and cake, and even some prizes to win.