On an extremely cold Saturday afternoon in early February 2019, a group of people came together for AHPCA’s first-ever Death Cafe. This is the story of how we got there and what happened.

In late summer 2018, Laura Walsh approached AHPCA, wondering if we would like to join forces to host a Death Cafe. Laura, a registered psychologist, became interested in the rituals surrounding death while she lived in Asia. She found people dealt with subject of death much more openly than western cultures and upon relocating to Calgary, she was surprised at the reluctance to talk about it. After she listened to a BBC podcast regarding Death Cafes, she felt she had a platform to bring the taboo topic of death more to the forefront of western culture.

AHPCA promotes and supports comprehensive and quality hospice palliative care (HPC) for all Albertans. We raise public awareness, advocate to government and support professionals, volunteers and caregivers. AHPCA’s stance is that feeling comfortable talking about mortality and death is important. Does your family know what type of medical care you want (or don’t want) if you can’t decide for yourself? Have you thought about it? It’s easier to have these important conversations if death isn’t a taboo topic.

Based on our mutual interests, we set a date for AHPCA’s first Death Cafe with Laura Walsh facilitating. The Death Cafe concept is an international social franchise that started in the UK; in order to call ourselves a Death Cafe, we agreed to the principles set out in the Death Cafe guide. This meant our event would be a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. The format would be flexible, lightweight and straightforward. Our Death Cafe, like all others, would be offered:

  1. On a not-for-profit basis
  2. In an accessible, respectful and confidential space
  3. With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action
  4. Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!

The AHPCA Death Cafe could be anything, depending entirely on what people felt like talking about.
People arrived, grabbed a cup of coffee or tea, helped themselves to a cookie or cupcake, and settled in for a chat. We held a “salon style” Death Cafe with several tables of 5-7 people. At the request of participants, Laura gave a few conversational icebreaker questions tables could choose to use, or not. For example, “What does a ‘good death’ look like for you?” It took very little time for discussion to flow from there.

After about 45 minutes we interrupted the lively conversations, invited people to take a break, refill their cups and plates and consider switching tables to meet other people. It didn’t take long before the room was alive with chatter once again for another hour.

We had excellent feedback from our participants.

This is so very much needed in our society. I believe everyone at our table enjoyed the conversations and came away with having learned something new, which is amazing!!! A few of us mentioned that we could be chatting for many more hours and would definitely love to do this again.
– Feb 2019 Death Cafe Participant

I loved the venue, it was the sit around the living room type of atmosphere, not too institutional which I think allowed the space for open conversation.
– Feb 2019 Death Cafe Participant

The facilitator was great – having the prompt questions was helpful. I enjoyed meeting other people that are involved with or interested in palliative care/Hospice care (that was the topic at our table), hearing about other perspectives on the topics of “define a great death”, etc. I actually look forward to seeing some of these ladies again and talking more… the two hours went by very quickly.
– Feb 2019 Death Cafe Participant

If you want to read more about the Death Cafe concept or find (maybe start) one in your area, explore the Official Death Cafe website. so much Laura, for approaching AHPCA with your idea and thank you to our participants, for coming to our event with curiosity and openness.

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