Death Café Belfast is a free event, which offers people the opportunity to come together to chat about the topic of death over coffee and cake, was first set up in Belfast in 2018 by qualified therapist and funeral celebrant, Rachel Smith. Funeral Arranger, Lisa Hutchinson, later came on board offering a venue and support for the event. People now meet every month at James Brown & Sons Funeral Directors in Dunmurry, which is part of the Funeral Partners family.
Rachel said: “The concept of a Death Cafe, is straightforward enough – a group of people come together to talk about death for a couple of hours. It isn’t a support or bereavement group, and we don’t provide counselling. Culturally we don’t talk about death, so we want to use the death café to help people feel more at ease when discussing the subject. It is about having conversations about your thoughts and emotions in a comfortable and safe place to help people overcome any fears they may have.”
A Death Cafe, which is run on a voluntary basis, is part of a world movement based on the ideas of sociologist Bernard Crettaz who ran a series of Café Mortels in Switzerland. Inspired by Crettaz’s work, Jon Underwood and Sue Barky-Reid developed the Death Café model and held their first event in London in 2011. Lisa said: “The underpinning principle behind Death Café is ‘to increase an awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.” You can find out more via www.deathcafe.com
People attending are often unknown to each other. They come together to chat about topics relating to death and dying in an informal and non-judging environment.
Lisa adds “Talking about death might also help some people express their wishes about their own funeral. This can be a support to families when the time comes. As a Funeral Arranger, I see how families take comfort from the conversations they had with their loved one, and that the arrangements they are making are in keeping with their loved ones wishes.”
So far, three Death Café Belfast events have taken place at James Brown & Sons Dunmurry, with numbers growing at the most recent event in June 2022. Members of the public, funeral celebrants, students, artists and funeral professionals have all joined together to break the silence around a subject still largely considered taboo. Those attending report having found the event both enjoyable and beneficial.
Rachel adds: “We are grateful to James Brown & Sons Funeral Directors for letting us use their community room for these events. Since we began Death Café Belfast we have changed the times to try to find the most convenient time for people to attend. We started holding it on a Sunday morning but realised that many people want to go to Church at that time so have changed it to Sunday afternoon.”
The next Death Café Belfast event will take place on Sunday 14th August 2022, 3pm-5pm at James Brown & Sons Funeral Directors, 139 Kingsway, Dunmurry, BT17 9RY. Everyone is welcome and refreshments are provided. Further details can be found on the ‘Death Café Belfast’ Facebook page.