Fancy a death chat over your ‘mourning’ tea and cake? Meet Putney Death Café host who wants to demystify dying taboos
“To me, there is no death. Obviously there is a physical death, where the body dies, but something else, the soul or whatever you want to call it, remains.”
Putney Death Café host Suzanne Michal has done a lot of talking about death over the past few years following the ‘confusing’ loss of her sister and brother-in-law.
She spent two years writing letters, compiled in the book Mystical Journey of a Letter, and later embarked on a series of death workshops.
After attending her first Death Café run by a university student she became hooked.
The 49-year-old explained: “I had to use that experience and do something constructive with it.
“I started with the workshops and then I heard about Death Cafés.
“I attended one run by a student as a part of his dissertation at a university and it was instant love.
“After that, I knew I needed to run one.”
Since she started running her Death Café in Putney a year ago, Suzanne has welcomed more than 70 people of all backgrounds to the monthly sessions at Bills in Putney High Street.
But what exactly is a Death Café?
Originally a Swiss tradition, it only came to the UK three years ago and has since spread rapidly with 1095 of the groups springing up in Europe, North America and Australia.
Suzanne explained: “There’s a taboo surrounding death. People need to talk more about it. It’s a massive problem in our society.
“There’s a taboo surrounding death. People need to talk more about it. It’s a massive problem in our society.”
“The Death Café makes people stop and look at themselves and realise the value of the life they have and stop taking it for granted.”
Suzanne revealed that she has never failed to be moved by the people she meets at aa Death Café
She added: “The people who come to the Death Café are ordinary people who have incredible and uplifting stories to tell and don’t even realise it.”
Though Death Cafés do have the power to inspire, it is not always plain sailing and there are times when the ‘emotional rawness’ of it can get a little overwhelming.
In one of the early cafés that she was attending, Suzanne even thought of walking out.
“At one point, I almost left halfway through,” she said. “I was so emotionally stretched and I was also faced with completely opposing views to mine.
“I’m glad I stayed. In the end, I managed to have a good discussion with these people.
“Even though we believed in something completely different, we still respected each other’s views.”
Many cultures and religions approach death from a variety of angles so respect is key to anyone attending a café.
“There is such a wide range of people, with so many different views and religions we have to be respectful of one another so that the discussion can flow,” she explained.
“Since we do not approach death from a religious angle per se, it isn’t much of an issue and I think that someone willing to come to a Death Café is likely to be quite open-minded.”
“I think that someone willing to come to a Death Café is likely to be quite open-minded.”
Suzanne is currently penning another book about dying called Death: The Gift of Transformation which is due out next year.
She said: “I’m not trying to impose my views onto people.
“The idea of the book is to provoke people, to have them explore their emotions and come up with their own conclusions over death and what it means – the same type of thing we do at the Death Café.”
Despite the hard work involved in running a Death Café, Suzanne explained that it is hugely rewarding to see a change in the way people deal with death.
She said: “It’s really encouraging for us to have people from such a big range of ages come in.
“We have a lot of students from Loughborough Uni come in to see us and at the same time we get people who are in their 80s.
“The fact that this generation is already coming up with a much more open mind with the subject is encouraging for what we are trying to achieve with this whole movement.
“People are getting creative with death and I think that’s encouraging.
“We have all these different types of funerals now that treat death as just another part of life, which is exactly what it is.
“We know it’s coming. We are ready for it and we want to make sure we enjoy ourselves as much as we can before it does come.”
The next Putney Death Café will take place between 7pm and 9pm tonight at Bills, on 146 Putney High Street.
There is a suggested donation of £5 and the event is alcohol free.
Anyone interested in attending this, or any other edition of the monthly gathering, should contact Suzanne by clicking here.
Pictures courtesy of Tim Regan and NCSSM via Flickr, with thanks