“I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
– Woody Allen
There is no more a certainty in life than that of death.
It shapes our lives from the moment of birth. It is a constant in everyone’s life, dealing the most difficult hands we are forced to play.
We have countless fundraisers dedicated to raising billions needed for research. From cancer relays to heart and stroke bike rides, the goal is to make what little time we have on this tiny blue dot better for the people around us. They are noble goals, no question.
According to research by the United State’s Central Intelligence Agency, in 2011, about 55 million people die each year. That’s roughly 151,600 each day, 6,316 an hour, 105 every minute, or two every second.
According to Statistics Canada, 256,721 Canadians died in a one-year span from July 1 to June 30, 2013/14. In B.C., there were 32,967 deaths in that 365-day stretch.
But the topic of death still looms large in our lives.
For Stephen Garrett of Maple Ridge, it’s a conversation he’s more than happy to share.
Garrett has teamed up with Lindsay Stroud of Bean Around Books and Tea to host Death Cafe.
Every six weeks, the two not only open the doors to the quaint Maple Ridge coffee shop, but provide an avenue for people to open up about one of life’s least popular topics.
“Here in North American, I think we have a really bad relationship with death and dying,“ said Garrett. “Nobody wants to talk about it, much to our own loss.”
Garrett, who has a masters degree in education and training, said the idea first came to light three years ago and has since taken shape at the cafe.
The self-described “death coach” said he wanted to be able to share his own journey of coming to grips with his own mortality.
“The Death Cafe is a forum where we can talk about death and dying, publicly,” he said. “We can ask questions and get answers, and actually have some fun doing it.”
For Garrett, the need to look deeper happened more than 27 years ago, although he recalls the day as quick as someone reciting their own phone number.
It was May 5, 1988. A Thursday, at 6:32 p.m.
His sister died.
“That really shook the foundations of my life. I was a stock broker. A big-money guy, with a BMW, Hugo Boss suits.
Two cold hard facts made him look at life differently. But more importantly, he said, to embrace the concept of death.
“I tried to negotiate with God to get my sister back, but she wouldn’t take my Ping golf clubs, or my BMW, or my money.”
He said he can now look back at her death as a blessing. He spent five years researching and writing a book, called When Death Speaks, published in June 2013.
Garrett said by offering the Death Cafe, he hopes they can provides a place where people of all beliefs and ages can come together and share their knowledge.
Stroud said they have a wide range of ages attend, from 16 to 87. They’ve hosted as many as 44 people in one meeting, all out in the front of the cafe, for everyone to see.
“It’s something unique and different. But it’s a great way to bring people together,” said Stroud.
Garrett recalls one young visitor who chose to come to the Death Cafe over their Christmas party. While he’s passionate about the topic, he admits he was curious. He had to ask why.
“She said because the conversations here are real, and important, and vital.”
While meetings are scheduled for 90 minutes, they quite often run up to three hours, said Stroud. The reason, she said, is because they quickly realize the cafe is a safe venue to express their fears and ask the difficult questions.
“It allows people to open up to a very daunting topic. People don’t know what to expect. So by talking and sharing, I think it gives them relief,” said Stroud.
Garret said he’s noticed that when people are able to express their own unique opinion, some lights go on for other people around the circle.
And as someone who has facilitated groups for the past two decades, he said it’s important for people to feel safe at the group. No topic is off limits. There is no judgement, just the freedom to speak.
“When we do enter into the conversation, people are able to breath and relax and open up about it,” said Garrett.