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Seven years of Death Café in Revelstoke

Revelstoke’s first Death Café was Feb. 25 in 2016, but their next one is the last Monday of the month
The next Death Cafe in Revelstoke will be on April 24 at Dose. (Black Press file photo)

It’s been more than seven years of caffeine-fueled death talk for Revelstoke, and Death Café is showing no signs of slowing down.

In Revelstoke, Death Cafés started in February of 2016. Krista Cadieux hosted the first Death Café in Revelstoke at Sangha Bean, and people lined up to take part. After Cadieux’s first successful meeting, the event took off. Over time, the location was changed to Dose, and Theresa Hamilton from the Revelstoke Hospice Society took on the role of host. In that time, the community has embraced conversations about death, allowing the cafés to continue to meet and to grow. Hamilton discussed the history of Death Cafés, how it’s evolved in town, and why it’s been such a hit here.

When it first started in Revelstoke, Cadieux wanted to foster conversations about death and dying. As a death midwife, Cadieux wanted to help people understand all the options available to them when they die, including alternative options. Cadieux was concerned about our culture’s inability to deal with ageing and dying.

“In a lot of ways, we are a culture not exposed to the ageing. We often don’t live in the same community or house as our parents and grandparents. We don’t know what to do or how to cope with the idea of ageing and dying,” said Cadieux to Revelstoke Review reporter Imogen Whale at the time.

READ MORE: Krista Cadieux hosting Revelstoke’s first Death Cafe

The Death Café in Revelstoke has rich international roots. In fact, all Death Cafés come from one man in England. Originating in Hackney, East London in September 2011, Jon Underwood was the founder of Death Cafés, alongside Sue Barsky Reid based on Bernard Crettaz’s research. He held the first at his house but went on to host more around the city.

The concept is simple, but effective and the rules aren’t complicated. The events must be not-for-profit; the space must be accessible, considerate, and confidential; no one can steer the conversation to a conclusion; refreshing drinks, snacks, and cake must be made available; and the conversation should be about death.

The cafés are a ‘social franchise’, meaning anyone who agrees to the principles of Underwood’s original concept can call themselves a Death Café, which is what Hamilton continues to do.

It’s been more than seven years since a small crowd gathered at a café that has since closed, but the talk of death lives on.

“It’s a different experience every single month,” said Hamilton.

Hosting a meeting on the last Monday of every month, Revelstoke’s Death Cafés have been consistent in their schedule, but varied in their topics.

“We want to express grief about the environment. We want to express concern about the bears if a bear gets shot, that’s always brought up,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton said that the conversations take the ‘temperature’ of the town, which is why it’s so varied. She also said that sometimes external world events contribute to the conversation. After the 2016 United States Presidential Election, Hamilton said some people were more ‘elevated’ about events that effected the world.

The biggest world event of the past seven years –the pandemic– impacted Revelstoke’s Death Café, but it didn’t stop them. Like everything else, Death Café went online throughout COVID-19, but Hamilton said that the experience wasn’t the same.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Death Café puts mortality front and centre

“For my experience, it’s really important if you’re going to create a circle, it’s great to be able to have the body language,” said Hamilton.

Despite the challenge, Death Cafés made it through the pandemic and numbers went up in its wake.

Hamilton attributed a large part of their ongoing success to Dose for hosting them. Having Death Cafés at a literal café isn’t a requirement. Often, they’re hosted in community centres, basements of churches, or other free spaces. Hamilton said the free, welcoming, and accessible space that Dose provides makes the meetings all the better.

To have them running for so long is unique, and Hamilton also recognized the community for its role in the success of the Death Cafés.

“I do really feel like Revelstoke’s a special place, and it kind of shows, especially when it’s something so community oriented like this,” said Hamilton.

The purpose of the meetings is not to take away the feeling of grief, but to share it.

“That human connection that’s made doesn’t take away the suffering– doesn’t correct it. We’re not meant to fix things,” said Hamilton.

Instead, the goal of the meetings is to share that feeling of loss. The effect, Hamilton said, is that talking about death helps people feel more alive.

“People leave with smiles, and lighter, and happy.”

For those looking to attend the Death Cafés, they will continue to happen on the last Monday of the month. Hamilton said that sometimes the meetings have prompts and that in the coming months the group will talk about the loss of pets.

READ MORE: Decision made: Revelstoke Mountain Resort approved for zoning bylaw amendment


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