This is an entry in my day calendar.
I jotted the note, without a thought, when we were setting a tentative date for a Death Café we plan to hold at our church.
Only later, when I returned to the page, did I laugh out loud thinking what someone who didn’t understand the context would make of that note. They’d think, “Boy, is she organized.”
No, I’m not penciling in my imminent demise, just planning an evening for people “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”
At a Death Café people eat cake, drink tea and talk about something we need to talk about more. Because, let’s face it, whether it’s written in our calendar or not, it’s coming!
It’s not a grief session or counselling. Just open discussion.
I realized how taboo the subject is when I puzzled over what to call this post.
- A date with death. Love it. But how many people would think, “Oh no! Arlene’s going to die?!”
- Talking about death. Also good, but so many people cringe at the idea of death. (The very ones who could benefit from a Death Café.) They would think, “Ugh,” and delete the e-mail without reading it.
- 10 ways to talk about death. The SEO people are always trying to get me to put numbers in titles. But (a) I don’t know ten ways and, (b) the same group of people would say, “Ugh,” and delete.
I couldn’t find a way to include the word “death” in my title that wouldn’t either give the wrong impression or turn people away. If you’re in Ottawa, Canada on November 6, you could come and eat cake with me. If not, find someone else and make a date with death.
You might end up laughing out loud.
I highly recommend Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. He writes about “contingency sims”–death simulations, really. (Even astronauts find the word “death” taboo.)
[Contingency sims] force us to think through our own demise in granular detail: not only how we’d die, but what would happen afterward to our families, colleagues and the space program itself. … What to do with the corpse?… What kind of help would crewmates need to deal with the trauma?… How should the PR people respond?…
Death sims are not weepy, grief-stricken affairs. They’re all about brass tacks. Although family members aren’t required to participate, Helene [his wife] has joined in several times because she has quickly discovered that taking the time to verbalize what you think you would do in the worst-case scenario quickly reveals whether you’re really prepared or not….
I reviewed my will, made sure my financial affairs and taxes were in order, and did all the other things you’d do if you knew you were going to die. But that didn’t make me feel like I had one foot in the grave. It actually put my mind at ease and reduced my anxiety about what my family’s future would look like if something happened to me. Which meant that when the engines lit up at launch, I was able to focus entirely on the task at hand: arriving alive.”