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Death Café not afraid to talk dying

Masha Scheele
reporter@hintonvoice.ca


A terminally-ill man asked a group of people, who had gathered at a local café to talk about death, whether they had yet come to terms with the fact that they would die.

Their answer was no, and he agreed. He knew that death was nearby, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t rather keep living.

The Death Café is all about talking and discussing death, and making it okay to call it what it is.

“When I worked in public health, I did sex education and we always taught people to use body parts and proper names and I think a lot of people do that now. With death, we say somebody passed away, or they’re passing, or they’re gone, or it’s really bad if you say somebody is sleeping. People will say those things to make death softer, what I’m learning is that we need to call it what it is,” said Kim Nendsa, a palliative care nurse in Yellowhead County.

A family member or a friend who dies is a significant event in a person’s life, and not addressing what has happened takes away the fact that a person is dead, explained Nendsa. The Death Café isn’t a grief support group, but instead it’s a place to talk about death just as people talk about living.

Discussions don’t just revolve around the grim process of dying, but they touch on burial places, personal experiences, and what people wish to happen to their bodies once they’ve died.

“What I found in my experience is that when people can talk about death, they can talk about it to the people they live with. And then when it’s happening to you, I don’t think it makes it easier, but it makes it easier to talk and you know what the person wants and what their wishes are,” said Nendsa.

Typically what happens in North America when bodies are buried is that they’re embalmed and buried in a casket, but there are many other options that some people maybe don’t know about due to the lack of conversation.

“Caskets are lead lined, and we’re embalmed and put into the earth and none of that is going to decompose and embalming fluid is really bad for the environment. A green burial is a burlap sack or some sort of biodegradable shroud or covering and just placed in the earth so you decompose naturally,” Nendsa explained about a green burial place located in Edmonton, a different option than a regular burial.

Organs can be donated or bodies can be sent to universities for medical science or research.

Without talking about these options, many people wouldn’t know about the possibilities.

Participants of the death café can also learn about how other societies or individuals deal with death.

“In North American culture we are very afraid of death, we’ve outsourced it. We don’t have anything to do with it until it happens. Then you call a funeral home and they take it over,” said Nendsa.

Some other cultures deal with death much differently, she explained, where death is something that happens in the home, and the body is prepared with each family member present. The death becomes a family affair and some people believe in these cultures the grieving process is easier due to their participation, added Nendsa.

“They lived it, whereas we outsource it and we’re not involved in it at all,” she said.

Nendsa put forth the question as to why death isn’t something people talk about when it will happen to every person.

“Everybody is going to die and there is a lot of information on death, but nobody talks about it. That’s what the movement is about,” she said.

Attendees to Death Cafés led by Nendsa in other communities have come from all walks of life and she believes the one in Hinton will be successful largely due to the partnership with the Hinton Healthcare Foundation.

To learn more about the Death Café, head to deathcafe.com. 

The first event will be held at The Old Grind on Monday, Sept. 9 at 6:30 pm.