A Death Café on the last taboo

JPMT. Joanna Warrington and Sheila Pope are organising a Death Cafe. Pic Steve Robards
JPMT. Joanna Warrington and Sheila Pope are organising a Death Cafe. Pic Steve Robards


Death cafe 1 Joanna with her mother. The picture was taken on Joanna’s wedding day, twenty eyars ago.

JPMT1400777 Joanna and Sheila

One day we will die - it is the surest fact of life - yet talking about.... well, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Two friends who have lost close relatives are trying to change that by holding two ‘Death Cafés’ in Mid Sussex - discussions over tea and cakes where people can talk openly about the last taboo.

Joanna Warrington, a funeral celebrant from Haywards Heath has organised the meetings with Sheila Pope, a counsellor with a private practice.

Joanna said: “The purpose of the evenings is to increase an awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their lives.

“Over Christmas, I worked in a care home and was with a resident when she died. There were carols in the background and a beautiful Christmas tree and along with her close relatives, I was one of the final people with her - telling her how much she was loved by her daughter and family.

“They say hearing is the last sensation to go and when I talked to her, although she was slipping away, her eyes moved towards me.”

It was a moment Joanna will never forget and yet so many people find it hard to talk about their feelings, even though they are in emotional turmoil.

In 2012, Joanna was told her mother had a week to live and time was so precious that she decided to keep a diary.

“I wrote down her health changes and all that was said - all the secrets that came out. My parents had divorced because my father was a serial adulterer, yet I discovered my mother had kept the Valentine cards he gave her. They were in a drawer all those years.”

Joanna also spoke candidly to the Middy about a heart-breaking event nineteen years ago when she lost her baby daughter who was five months old. Looking back, she wishes she has spent every moment of every day by her cot at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

She said: “I was in my thirties then but I didn’t want to address what was going on. I recognise now that life is so precious.

“In my own family we didn’t talk about love but now I’m a funeral celebrant I have changed.

“I talk about love every day in the job I do. Dealing with someone’s final days or weeks is about the love they shared with their family.”

Sheila Pope, who lost her mother as a child and her husband five years ago, is searching for ways to make the best of her life.

She said: “When you lose someone, that loss can sometimes not be addressed - it’s about letting go and having those difficult conversations.

“I knew the hymns my husband wanted at his funeral but in those final days I would have liked to have said I loved him, more - to reflect on our lives together and celebrate that.”

Sheila and Joanna hope to attract a range of people to their meetings from a 20-year-old who might have witnessed the death of a friend to someone who wants to write a will but doesn’t know how to.

Sheila said: “There is no intention of leading anyone to a conclusion or course of action. A ‘Death Café is not a bereavement support group - it is an opportunity to discuss the meaning that death has for each of us.”

There will be refreshments at the meetings, which are planned at 7.30pm on Wednesday, February 5 and Wednesday, March 5 in King Edward Hall, Lindfield. A small donation will be requested to cover costs.

The Death Café idea was brought to the UK by Jon Underwood from Switzerland in 2010 and is slowly catching on. There is further information on the national movement at www.deathcafe.com