Have you ever discussed death with your friends? Have you ever debated this issue? What is your relationship with death like? How should it be explained to children? And how have you explained death to yourself? Moreover, cremation or entombment? A funeral for a few intimate friends? Where would you like to die? Death Café is a place where discussions about death are not frightening and it would be very normal to answer such a question as: “How about putting flowers on the graves throughout the year?”. Death happens just like other things do but, being seen as “terminus”, is far from becoming a topic of conversation.

At the beginning of the 21st century, however, the Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz tried to promote a change of heart by organizing the first “Death Cafés” meetings with the aim of fighting the human tendency to repress death. He started from the fact that, as psychologists and sociologists say, taking a break and focusing on death and its sorrows –or whatever one rejects because of fear– are necessary steps to prevent it from conditioning one’s life. This experiment continued and, in 2010, Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid opened the first-ever Death Café in London. According to “The Independent”, a survey conducted by Dying Matters has revealed that around 70% of people feel uncomfortable when talking about death, and so does Underwood himself. In fact, in an interview for “The Independent” he has stressed the importance of these Cafés as welcoming places in which one can discuss death freely and try to answer banal but unresolved questions.

Within a few years, 2000 Death Cafés have been opened all over Europe, also in Italy. Similar experiments have been conducted in Florence and Verona with such good results that a Death Café was successfully opened in Bologna on 29 October this year. I have had the pleasure of debating this issue with professor Francesco Campione, an expert in Medical Psychology and lecturer at the University of Bologna. He is in charge of Death Café in Bologna as the founder and president of I.A.T.S. (International Association of Thanatology and Suicidology).

What was the reception of this new message like in Bologna? The new opening has been very successful. Indeed, a lot of people attended our event although participation was by invitation. Now people enrolled are enough to organize two or three meetings for 20 people each (the number of participants has to be low in order to let everyone speak freely). It is not a proper and typical café, but a research center on death and sorrow that, every now and again, turns into a meeting place where whoever wants to talk about death can do it.

The way we talk about death has changed and, as professor Campione says, this is necessary for two reasons, particularly in Italy. First, because it might be desirable not to live in a society that neglects death, which is right when having a good time but not when one is at risk of dying, i.e. in case of a disease. Second, because a lot of people might be willing to discuss death and face it but they have no means.

In detail, what are the topics discussed in Death Cafés? The first meeting is about speaking off-the-cuff; then, during the second meeting, a survey is conducted to choose a specific topic (for example, how death should be explained to children) about whom participants speak freely. In short, freedom of speech and flood of opinions!

Why should we talk about death? Normally, we talk about our fears to exorcise them, we talk about our difficulties to prevent them from becoming a taboo. As the founder of the Italian Journal of Thanatology (ZETA) and of the Italian Institute of Thanatology and Psychologic Medicine, Mr. Campione maintains that his aim is far from exorcising the fear of death. Indeed, this is possible only by trivializing it. Conversely, he aims to reverse the trend and recover the awareness of death so as to help people make the most of their lives and make death seem less tragic. In other words, Death Cafés object to death repression. Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher, argued that the wise think about life, not death. In view of Death Cafés’ philosophy, nothing could be further from the truth. As Mr. Campione says, debating death is an important step to prepare to face it as soon as possible. Sooner or later, everyone “experiences” it either directly or indirectly through the death of a loved one. However, it is right not to think about it when having fun.

Literature has dealt with death in different ways, movies have displayed the feelings that it provokes. Unlike family, children, love, work, politics or economy, death has never sit at the table with us. It has never been an interesting topic of conversation. Let’s dispel the myth and have coffee with death! Weak black, espresso, decaffeinated or with a dash of milk; whatever the type of coffee, in Death Cafés you can drink it while talking about death just like you talk about life.

For the italian version click here

Thanks to Teresa Delli Priscoli

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