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Death to Secrecy

Talking about dying won't kill us and can help greatly

Listener Magazine, February 13 - 19, 2021

How society would cope if we were to cure death is difficult to imagine - when would you set the retirement age, for a start? And pitted against the immortalists are those who believe that accepting the prospect of death enriches our lives.

Among them is Melanie Mayell, artist and writer and founder of the Christchurch Death Cafē, where monthly, over coffee and cake, participants chat about all things end-of-life, from loss, grief and fear to euthanasia and funeral planning.

'Death surrounds us as we walk through life,' says Mayell. 'There is no escape from it. Our life is part of the bigger cycles of nature, the seasons, the yer. To try to cure death is to have no perspective on its value to us.'

The Death Cafē movement began in the UK, inspired by a Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, who believed it was time to end the 'tyrannical secrecy' surrounding the topic.

Mayell set up the Christchurch branch in 2016. 'It started small - just a few people came to the first one,' she says. 'And it's continued to grow since then.'

Generally sessions are limited to 14 people. 'We talk about what everyone wants to talk about,' says Mayell. 'With new people, the fear of dying always comes up. My response is that most of us are afraid of death and the conversation is to help alleviate some of that fear by becoming more familiar with it.'

The death-positive movement is based on the belief that keeping death behind closed doors does more harm than good. As Mayell says, 'Talking about death won't kill us.'


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