The sun is shining, the birds are tweeting and on the car radio Katrina and the Waves are aptly belting out the lines; ‘I feel alive, I feel alive’.
I really don’t want to be doing this. I like being alive. I don’t like the idea of being dead or, worse still, the idea of dying. Especially if it is long and painful and I lose my marbles and most of my savings in the process.
These are my thoughts as I pull up at Highcliffe Death Cafe in Hinton Wood Avenue, to be greeted by a sombre black banner sporting a tea-cup with a skull on it.
The cafe – part of a growing worldwide movement - takes place twice a month at the home of Lis Horwich, a gentle Danish lady who runs Hinton Wood Therapies and who guides me to her bright kitchen where guests Tim and Sue are already ensconced. We are joined by two more, Vera and her husband, Slim.
Everyone has different reasons for attending. For Sue it’s the first time and it’s partly because of her work with Cruse, the bereavement support charity.
She feels that in the UK: “We do death really badly. We don’t talk about it,” although her mother did, she reveals, assigning responsibilities to family members and getting everything organised when she learned she only had a few months to live.
Tim is here because: “It’s a subject that should be discussed more openly, it shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet all the time because it’s as natural as birth.”
From his conversation it appears he’s undergone a vast number of spiritual experiences and has read a huge amount about it all. He’s received messages on his computer and talks about ‘Spirit’ and his out-of-body experience: “I was walking down the high street when I came up here, above my head.”
Vera’s been down ‘the tunnel of death’.
“I reached the other side and there was a beam of light who didn’t speak but I could feel the peace and the tranquillity was fantastic and I was told, in thought transference, not speech, that your time isn’t finished. I was 32. I was so upset to come back to the pain so I started searching.”
Slim believes that death is ‘the last great adventure’.
“It’s a doorway you step through; it’s not the end, it’s a transition and you go on to something better.”
Lis started up the Highcliffe Death Cafe after seeing a newspaper article.
“I thought this was an interesting topic,” she says.
“I work in different therapies and have clients who have had experiences themselves and I can see how much it pains them that they don’t have anyone nearby they can speak to, because people generally avoid the subject.”
She’s speaking from experience; her beloved twin brother died many years ago and: “Everyone asks the parents how they are but not the sister.”
Lis liked the idea of people being able to chat informally about death and joined the movement, which started in London in 2011.
So far, more than 1,790 Death Cafes have been held. She believes that ‘people are very worried about death’ and many can’t speak to their loved ones about it.
“I say be brave and join this and discuss the subject,” she says.
Tim agrees, saying his wife won’t talk about it.
But you get the idea with Vera and Slim that, sometimes, there aren’t enough hours in the day.
“I know all about my past life and this life,” says Vera.
“I was told by a numerologist, an astrologer and a hand-palmist exactly the same thing.
I didn’t even know what it meant until I told a friend and she said ‘In your last life you topped yourself.’ They say you never finished off what you came to do in a past life.”
There is talk of reincarnation and religion; of past lives, quantum physics, the positive experiences Sue witnessed when the school at which she is a governor took children to visit an adult hospice, of ‘soul midwives’ who help your spirit move on to the next world (I ask how we know this has actually happened – at least with an obstetric midwife you can see the results), of different death traditions including sky burials and the frankly disgusting-sounding cannibal rituals that Lis says can be found in Latin America.
She has a variety of interesting and useful literature and shows me a picture of an elderly gentleman in his coffin, surrounded by his grandchildren. It’s a peaceful scene but I still don’t want to look at dead people.
For me, time is so short on this earth that I don’t really want to spend my time contemplating the end of it, even though I believe we all go on to a better place.
But for those who believe, like Slim, that it’s a great adventure, for those who have fears or ideas and no one to share them with, I can’t think of anything better than popping along to Lis Horwich’s where she has proved that in the midst of life, death can be talked about – over a nice cup of tea and some splendid cake.
- hintonwoodtherapies.co.uk deathcafe.com