Death Cafe: A bunch of Brainiacs

By Gina Vliet

At last night’s (April 24, 2019) Death Café, our topics for discussion tended on the cerebral side. The group opened the discussion by referencing an April 17, 2019 National Post article on scientists restoring brain activity in recently slaughtered pigs, and how that related to Near Death Experiences (NDE’s) and whether we feel anything after we die.  Traumatic death came up, and some attendees were yesterday days old when they figured out that bells in Victorian coffins were where the expression “saved by the bell” came from! Talk then went further down the rabbit hole into acid trips and the first law of Thermodynamics, where energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Coming from stardust and becoming stardust once more led to musings on being shot into space, and how that practically might be achieved.

The bulk of the evening’s meeting was spent discussing the perception of appropriate versus  inappropriate responses to dying and death. This is something people are very concerned about getting “right”, whatever that means. We all agreed that grief is as individual and as personal as the individual experiencing it, so any response might be considered appropriate.

We discussed humour as a coping mechanism, euphemisms we love to hate, and the power of language and word choice (those D-words!). This led into conversation on how death is not a failure, that the words ‘battling’ and ‘fighting’ are definitely not appropriate, and how phrasing like this can really skew our view on the topic. Consensus was that we need to call out euphemisms and death avoidance, as death is not a failure, that refusing treatment is a valid choice, and how, much like grieving is as individual as we are, so too should our choices be around how we define a good death.

Some attendees shared stories of how inadvertently death became a conversation killer, leading to awkward silence, eye avoidance, and in some cases a poorly executed joke. We also discussed how to respond when you ask after someone only to discover they’ve died. We’ve talked about the perception of strength and weakness in society, and how that may impact how people choose to show the world their response to dying and death.

Not to leave all the science-y talk behind, the conversation rounded out with exploring aspects of donating one’s body to science and all that entails, green burial, alkaline hydrolysis, and the body as compost.

Death Café never ceases to fascinate and encourage me, as it reinforces how important it is for people to have a safe space to discuss what’s on their mind about dying and death. And I am happy to provide that space.