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Black, no sugar and deadly conversation

'Death cafes' come to NZ

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2014
Sophia Tara, Death Cafe
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ
DEATH WISH: Sophia Tara wants more people to talk about dying.

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Anyone for a flat white and a chat about flat-lining?

Death Cafes are the latest twist to New Zealand's cafe culture. In recent months, regular meetings to discuss death over coffee and cake have popped up in Auckland, Tauranga and Wellington.

"People are dying to talk about it," deadpans Wellington's Death Cafe facilitator, Sophia Tara. But, she adds seriously, death is one of the Western world's top fears, alongside public speaking.

The Death Cafes are "a pioneering effort, really, to bring this out of the closet. At the end of the day, we are all headed that way".

Tara, an adult educator with an interest in death and the afterlife, hosted the first public Death Cafe four months ago in Wellington, after reading about overseas versions. The movement was born in Britain three years ago and has spread to 19 countries.

Tara admits discussing death over a cuppa is, well, not everyone's cup of tea. "Even when my friends find out I'm running a Death Cafe, they say, ‘Oh why are you doing that?' "

But many attendees at her monthly meetings at Trinity Unity Church in Newtown relish the chance to talk about a taboo subject.

"Fascinating to be part of an open forum for the beautiful aspect of life . . . inspired and thought-provoking," one attendee wrote. "Death needs to come out of the shadows," added another.

Tauranga's Voluntary Euthanasia Society hosted its first Death Cafe in April at the Grindz Cafe.

"I'm trying to get people to understand that death is a good thing and a peaceful thing," says the society's chairwoman, rest home nurse Tess Nesdale, who believes attitudes to death affect how we die, whether we fight for a last breath or go with the flow.

Interest in Tauranga's Death Cafes has been disappointingly low, she says, so the society plans to review how to boost their popularity before holding more.

Kay Ryan, one of Auckland's Death Cafe facilitators, believes incorporating death into life makes facing the end easier, in the same way people prepare for marriage and childbirth.

"I'm interested in that idea of taking it into the community for people to talk casually over coffee about such an important area of life. We push it aside until we have to face it."

She is the spiritual care co-ordinator at Mercy Hospice and sees many patients and families who are ill-prepared for death.

"We are often so busy with life, we forget it's going to end one day."

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The monthly meetings began in May at Garnet Road Station Cafe in Westmere. Their next meeting is August 10.

Ryan says attendees are diverse but mostly middle-aged, some eager to discuss near-death experiences, others with family or friends facing death, and some who are interested in euthanasia.

Most people have been upbeat about the new coffee culture.

"Some have said, ‘Oh that's a bit too serious. How can you put those two words together?'

"But death is a part of life and cafes are a great place to talk about things. I think in the West, we have pushed it aside a lot and it's time to change."

- Sunday Star Times

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