A series of Death Cafés are being hosted in Central and South Okanagan communities, with the goal of breaking taboos about talking about death. -Western News illustration

Touching on a taboo subject

Despite the name, the death café coming to South Okanagan is not supposed to be a gloomy gathering

A death café sounds like it might be a bit of a gloomy gathering, but organizers say that’s not the intention.

But then, for Alison Moore, the subject of death shouldn’t be treated as a taboo subject of discussion.

“Death touches us all and of course, we are all going to die,” said Moore, a reverend and celebrant. “By hosting a death cafe, we’re trying to break the taboo, bringing people together in a safe, friendly environment with others who have the same curiosity and courage to talk about death and dying.”

Moore, along with Ingrid Tourigny and Sue Berlie, is hosting a series of death cafés in the Okanagan. They’ve already held them in Kelowna and West Kelowna, with cafés still to come in Peachland on March 16 and Summerland on March 23 before they finish up in Penticton on March 30.

The Kelowna death café, Moore said, drew 24 people, women and men of all ages. Since the first death cafés were held in Britain in 2011, she said, there has been about 4,100 events in 44 countries.

The goal, Moore explained, is to build awareness around death and dying, make it part of our everyday lives so we can live more fully.

“It is a topic that a lot of people don’t talk about or think a lot about,” she said. “People have a tendency to take their health, fitness and well being for granted and aren’t prepared for when things aren’t always going to be like that.”

Awareness of the fleeting nature of life, she continued, can bring greater appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us, from the stars to just looking out over Okanagan Lake.

“We would be living more deeply and fully with the consciousness that our lives are finite,” said Moore.

There is no set agenda for a Death Café. Moore said the job of the facilitators is to create the space to encourage a lively discussion.

“It is not a grief counselling session, and it is not a group therapy session in any way. It is simply having people come together to have discussions about death,” said Moore.

At the Kelowna session, Moore said the participants shared their experiences, their spiritual beliefs, even their planning for their own deaths.

“It was pragmatic and practical, it was spiritual and it was personal. People laughed and people told stories that elicited laughter,” said Moore. “Many people find that they had shared experiences, so they began to make new friends.”

Moore also performs weddings, celebrations of life and seasonal ceremonies. She is also trained as a home funeral guide and is currently training as a death doula with the Conscious Dying Institute.

Tourigny, also a celebrant as well as a counsellor and meditation teacher, creates and performs weddings, celebration of life ceremonies, memorials, and divorce ceremonies. She has worked with people who are chronically and terminally ill for over 20 years.

The third facilitator is Berlie, a death midwifery practitioner and home funeral guide, offering support, guidance and information on various aspects of dying and death.

On March 16 there will be a death café from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Bliss Bakery in Peachland, 4200 Beach Ave, on March 23 at the Beanery Café in Summerland, 13016 Victoria Rd. N, and on March 30 at the Nest and Nectar in Penticton, 1475 Fairview Rd.

Anyone with a curiosity about death and dying and an interest in engaging with others in discussing end of life journeys is welcome to participate.

More information is available at deathcafe.com.