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The Death Café is open

Forum planned to tackle death’s “tyrannical secrecy” and help make the most of our finite lives Pam Wright A place to start the conversation nobody wants to have.

Forum planned to tackle death’s “tyrannical secrecy” and help make the most of our finite lives

Pam Wright

A place to start the conversation nobody wants to have.

That’s the goal of Death Café, a no-agenda open forum where people can come together, ask questions and share information about the issues surrounding end-of-life.

Heather Taylor, a registered nurse who has spent most of her 23-year career in palliative care, is spearheading Sarnia’s first ever Death Café on June 8.

It’s time to confront “the big elephant in the room,” she said.

“When people don’t have the discussion, their loved ones are left guessing,” Taylor said. “What did they really want? Did I do the right thing?”

Death Café was started in Switzerland in 2004 by sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz. He wanted to remove what he called the “tyrannical secrecy” surrounding death.

The movement gained momentum and Death Cafes are now held weekly around the world.

Although Taylor has many years of front-line experience working with the dying, she said she didn’t fully examine it until her own mother’s sudden death at age 68.

Though her mother had made some wishes known, Taylor said they weren’t entirely clear. That uncertainty brought the issue into focus.

“We tried to do our best to do what mom would have wanted.”

Family dynamics come into play when someone dies and emotions are high, Taylor said. People can ease the pressure on loved ones by leaving instructions.

Individuals, not families, should make the big decisions such as do-not resituate orders,” Taylor noted.

All deaths are overwhelming, but sudden deaths caused by car accidents, overdoses and suicides are especially difficult, she said.

“You aren’t prepared and it’s chaotic … it’s helpful for the family to know your wishes.”

While end-of-life is inevitable for all of us, we are a “death denying society,” she said. People once died at home, not in hospitals, and wakes were held in front parlours, not nursing homes.

But somewhere along the line, death became a mystery no one talks about. It is also sensationalized in media and television and can be turned into a “production,” she said.

Taylor says the Café is a creative way to explore death. And while the topic is filled with sorrow, exploring it allows people to live more fully in the present.

“It’s important to sit down with the people you love and do pre-planning,” Taylor explained, adding a will is not sufficient because it’s not read until after the fact.

Taylor is careful to point out the Café is not a bereavement group and people must be able to talk about death. Attendees, who must be 18 or over, are not steered toward any belief system or product.

McKenzie and Blundy Funeral Home at 431 Christina St. has agreed to host the first Café on June 8, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Taylor said she hopes the free, non-profit meeting can become a monthly event.

Cake and coffee will be served.

For more information or to RSVP, email: [email protected] or call 519-331-3944.

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