Let’s talk about death

As his contribution to this year’s Dying to Know Day, retired palliative care doctor Michael Barbato is organising Kiama’s first Death Café, to give people a space to talk about one of life’s big taboos.

Michael Barbato

Death Cafés are an international phenomena, with almost 5000 of them having been run in over 50 countries since the concept was devised in 2011.

The founding objective remains ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.

The Cafés offer a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling

“I believe there is a real hunger from people to find a forum to talk about all aspects of death,” says Michael.

“I would like people who have got some questions about death and dying to come – I’m not there to provide answers, but to facilitate the discussion.

“It will provide a safe space where they can share their thoughts and hear other people’s views. Or they can just listen if that is what they want to do. Whatever helps.”

With his 25 years as a palliative care specialist, Michael has seen a lot of death, and thinks everyone benefits when death is talked about beforehand.

“My belief is you shouldn’t leave death to chance. We prepare for everything else in life and the one thing that requires perhaps the most preparation is something most of us do the least preparation for.

“This Café will allow people to air their thoughts, views and concerns around death, in a non-judgmental environment.

“My hope is to allow people to express the type of things that they have had difficulty expressing before, either because of lack of opportunity or just because they thought no-one would want to listen.”

He sees the death process as being so similar to birth that he and his wife Ann teach the skills for midwife-ing death.

“I encourage people to think about their death, make all the necessary preparations and to see it as a very natural process.

“Once you have thought about your life and the way you want to be cared for at the end of it, and have made all the necessary preparations, you can go ahead and lead your life.

“If you don’t, that time when you are sick and dying is really tough as it is just so hard to make decisions about care during a time of crisis.”

The Death Café could become a regular occurrence.

Details: Tues 8 August, Speak n Easy Café (private room), 10-noon. RSVP to 0421 714 048 appreciated by Fri 4 August.


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