Death cafés in Ballarat and Footscray – with coffin cake

On August 8 I attended both the Ballarat and Footscray Death Cafés for ‘Dying to Know Day’. Always wanting to know about how these transpired I was treated to a very raw emotional – yet positive – experience.

Death Cafés are where people drink tea and coffee, eat cake and discuss death. The aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives. It is usually a random coffee shop but organised with a facilitator who directs conversation and ensures respectful interactions.

Both cafés were in essence the same structure, with varying attendees at each which brought the variety of conversations, experiences and attitudes in a web of unique discussion about dying, death, burial, grieving and many more topics not for your usual coffee morning.

Some attendees were there to talk about their own imminent death, the death of a family member or friend, what is available now for burials and funerals and where is this happening. Some were not as comfortable with the discussions, while others eagerly contributed and leaned in for more information. Ages ranged from late 20s to early 80s – a mix of culture, gender and interests.

Dying to Know Day was about raising awareness. Molly Carlile AM, D2KDay Ambassador, says it “… provides a great focal point for encouraging local communities to have conversations about life and death. It’s not about so-called ‘experts’ telling other people what to do. It’s about people being empowered to talk with each other and say what they need.”

The Death Cafés I attended were a great conversation about death and dying in an informal non threatening environment. Everyone came away with more questions, new insights and common ideas about death and dying locally and globally.

A key theme was wondering why we do what we always do. Is it the quick removal of the deceased to free up a bed, the funeral procession of sameness and burial, what is available? How do we decide between cremation and burial? Who visits a grave? It’s not just the family according to the Death Café participants, it’s the work colleagues, friends and even distant friends. The overriding discussion was about traditions and why we need to follow them.

The Death Cafés are monthly occurrences and aim to spread the opportunity for those that wish to chat about death and dying over a coffee. I will definitely return to talk some more and engage in discussion and listen to experiences as it makes it real for me; something that is guaranteed, going to happen at some point to us all.