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What is a death café?

 

The words death and café conjure such different images, don’t they? The idea of placing them alongside each other evokes confusion or curiosity, but rarely is the response neutral.

 

Grief, pain, torment, shock, loss, heartbreak, endings, finality.

Cappuccino, cake, tea, scones, taste sensation, pleasure, companionship, joviality.

 

How on earth do you link them together? And perhaps, more importantly, WHY would you put them as companions in written or spoken word?

 

When I tell people I facilitate a Death Café, the response is invariably one of horror or of intrigue. Generally, those who find it distasteful don’t want to engage in any further discussion. Those of a curious nature learn a heck of a lot in a short space of time.

There are approximately 8, 472 Death Cafés around the world in 65 countries. Some are offered regularly, and others occasionally. What they all have in common is a desire to raise awareness and help remove taboos around death and dying through friendly discussion. There is no set agenda.

My passion for setting up a monthly Death Café in Penrith was initially prompted because I wanted to bring choice and change to my local community. Few people consider death until it slaps them in the face (and if you’ve experienced grief, you know full well that ‘slap’ is an understatement). When suddenly faced with having to arrange a funeral, the chief mourner has anywhere between 80 and 300 decisions to make. That’s a hell of a lot of computing for the neo-cortex to deal with at a time when the body needs to be expressing raw grief.

 

Having seen behind the scenes of the funeral industry, as a funeral celebrant, I wanted people to start having conversations about death. In short, I was determined to disrupt the cultural script (in my neck of the woods, anyway) that death is a dirty word.

 

January 11th 2017 is a date that will stay in my mind for many reasons. Once I had decided to set up a Death Café, I chose my first date: January 11th. I would host meetings on the second Wednesday of each month for as long as there was interest. As per usual in my life, the Universe likes to amplify things a bit. I had no idea in the world (how could I have?), that on Christmas Day just previous, my best friend of eighteen years would hang herself. My whole being turned inside out as I grappled with the trauma and shock. As Fate would have it, her funeral date was January 11th just an hour or so after my first Death Café. I was to be the celebrant. Needless to say I was staring death in the face without any full-force protection that day!

 

Through conversations around cake and coffee, tea and scones, and amidst the gorgeous setting of Greenwheat Florist and Fika, a beautiful café and flower shop on Brunswick Road, Penrith (and thanks to the kindness and generosity of owners Laura and Lee for creating space for us there) we have started writing a new story. It’s one of choice, change, consciousness, creativity and care. Some of our guests have been there since that first session back in January 2017. Their thoughts on death, dying and indeed, living, have had quite a metamorphosis in that time.

 

No subject around death or dying is taboo. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve explored, we’ve asked questions, we’ve shared books. Opinions are sometimes diametrically opposed, and that’s okay too. After all, it is a discussion group. We’ve covered topics ranging from eco-burials, ashes into jewellery, life after death, the ethics of the funeral-director industry, coffins and shrouds, cultural death practices around the world, pet deaths, grief, mourning, caring for a body at home, the politics of death, burial v. cremation, how to choose a funeral director, what makes a meaningful life.

 

Who comes to a Death Café? Anyone at all. We’ve had mourners, celebrants and a funeral director, hospice care workers, those who are simply curious, and friends who’ve been dragged along and rather enjoyed it. I can’t speak for other Death Cafés around the world, but I know that I look forward to our friendly little group in Penrith. Sometimes it’s been incredibly busy, with sixteen or so people gathered in a little café, and other times it’s just two or three of us. For my part, I’m there regardless ready and willing to have a conversation about death, dying, love, living, and more. Most importantly, to show others that death is not a dirty word.

 

About Me:

Hello, my name is Veronika Robinson, an independent funeral celebrant in rural Cumbria.

Determining the nature and feel of a ceremony isn’t as simple as: religious or not religious. Most people have their own hybrid philosophy of life, death, love and living, and as your celebrant I seamlessly weave your beliefs into a ceremony that is enriching, healing and affirming of the relationship you shared with your beloved. I am able to do this because I listen clearly and carefully. At all times, my job is to craft a ceremony which belongs to you.

I’ve been an independent celebrant since 1995, and have officiated all manner of ceremonies internationally. My intention is to create, write and officiate deeply meaningful, personalised and beautiful ceremonies for every person I am honoured to serve.

Being a funeral celebrant, for me, is a vocation which is founded upon high-level care, compassion, empathy, responsibility and awareness.

Ceremonies, when crafted with skill and love, have the ability to be deeply healing.

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Living With Purpose

Hello to you on this beautiful Autumnal evening. I trust your day has been loving, gentle and beautiful.

 

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Do you go through life wondering what this human existence is all about? Do you feel out of place in this world? Sometimes I’m sure I must have arrived from some other planet. It’s one of the reasons I love being a writer. I can create worlds that I’d love to live in.

I have a beautiful life, and am grateful for the kind and wonderful souls who are part of it, whether they live close by or far away. They give me a sense of being part of this world in a way I might not if I didn’t know them.

This afternoon I said to my husband that when I wake up in the morning I have this inbuilt expectation that something wonderful is going to happen in the day. Perhaps I take being an optimist to the extreme, but I’d certainly rather live this way than wake up with low-grade anxiety or a feeling of dread. Before I step out of my cosy bed, I give thanks for my life. I then say quiet, gentle words such as “I Create My Day”. There’s no fanfare or drama. It’s a statement of fact. I think through the things I may have planned, or what I’d like to accomplish, and imagine them going smoothly and easily. We may not be able to control life but we can certainly put ourselves in the right mindset to expect the best.

I saw a beautiful postcard once which had the words: The meaning of life is…

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The final word or words were covered by a flowering bush. It frustrated me for years! I know now, though, without doubt, that the meaning of life is…whatever meaning we give it.

The values we hold as important are with us night and day. They shine through us and are what draw (or repel) people around us.

To live a purposeful life is based on awareness, listening to ourselves, and finding pleasure in our passions. There is more to life than going out and getting a job to pay the bills. Our lives are precious, and when we really understand what that means then we make changes (first to our belief system) to create days which mirror what is in our heart.

Too often we put up roadblocks to our joy, success, curiosity and love. Perhaps we live in fear about what other people might think of our choices. Those people don’t have to walk in your shoes. You do. If you find the shoes uncomfortable, or you don’t like the view on your journey, then you know what? Ditch the shoes. You can change direction. You can step off the path. You don’t even have to wait for a crossroads. Get out your scythe and determine the life you want to live. You don’t need anyone’s permission. You will never have this day again. Don’t waste it.

Living a life of purpose means we awaken to our sacred origin: that of being a creator. There is no creation quite as unique as handcrafting the life you choose to live, and the choices you make. Isn’t that one of the most exciting things about being human? Nothing is set in stone. Whatever challenge is before us, we can choose to see it differently. We choose. No one can make us feel anything unless we give them permission. But isn’t it easy to get cross and blame others when things aren’t going the way we want? We don’t have to let others steal our joy.

And this is at the heart of what it means to live on purpose. We become so attuned with who we are, and what our needs are, that we don’t become tainted with the toxicity of others in the same way we might have done in the past.

Today I purposefully gathered herbs from the garden to put into the soup I was making, and gave thanks for the handsome bunch of bay leaves my friend Denise had given me a couple of weeks ago. A gorgeous gift straight from her garden. I imagined her standing in the kitchen with me, us both laughing so hard we couldn’t stand up straight.

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Around the 100-year-old dining table, I took time to savour the black bean minestrone. With my husband and our younger daughter beside me, I gave thanks for this precious family time.

In the course of my day, I tended to my work: writing my novel. I’ve spent time in South Carolina at a remote lighthouse, and then drove towards Tennessee. Juice from a plump ripe peach dripped down my chin (well, my character’s chin). I’ve heard frogs sing, and eaten corn chowder. In my writing life I have many wonderful experiences, but the truth is that my ‘real’ life is no less pleasurable. The sensations I have when I witness the first sunflower come into bloom or taste a perfectly ripe tomato with red onion and fresh basil leaves or watch the full Moon rise over the hills are just as enlivening as when I have a book published. One experience isn’t ‘better’ than the other. To live on purpose means every experience is deeply meaningful and enriching.

Today I spent time outside and enjoyed sunshine. The cat and I had a deep and meaningful conversation.

Last night I dreamt about someone I’ve not seen for a few months, and then today he was at my front door. I do believe that when we live on purpose our dream life and/intuition become finely honed.

Throughout the day I’ve enjoyed hugs with my husband. There’s always that moment when, with my head resting against his shoulder, I get to smell his skin. Every single time, I come alive. Without doubt, it’s one of my favourite places to hang out! I wouldn’t trade that for all the fame and fortune in the world. Ever.

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I have come to understand the true meaning of what money can’t buy, and that clarity of purpose refines our values every single day.

Living a life of purpose isn’t necessarily about doing something big and grand in the world for millions of people to notice. For me, as a writer, it’s not where my book is ranked on Amazon or how many retweets I get or likes on Facebook. It’s about the small things. Does my work having meaning? Am I passionate about writing? Do my words change lives? Have I helped just one person see their life differently?

The ordinary things become extraordinary simply because we have taken the time to notice them. When we live, move and have our being in gratitude then we do indeed live purposefully. It’s impossible not to. A purposeful life is one where we don’t apologise for who we are and the space we take up on this planet.

In what ways are you living a life of purpose? What has the most meaning to you? Love, Veronika x

#my500words

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