The Tasmanian Death Cafe helps visitors deal with the ‘morbid fear’ of the end of life

Mitchell Jansen was scared to death from a young age.

The 25-year-old has suffered anxiety and panic attacks over his own mortality.

“I had a very morbid fear of death because I have cystic fibrosis, so death looms a bit over my head,” said Mr. Jansen.

“It was a constant fear, I was always full of anxiety, it was like dying young and with the pandemic I’m at high risk.”

A trip to the Tasmanian Death Cafe in Hobart lightened the load.

“I feel like I’ve been heard and it feels like a load is lifted off my shoulders. I have a sense of what I want when I die,” said Mr. Jansen.

“Although [death] is a common fear of still feeling lonely, and just being with like-minded people where I can crack my morbid jokes is a little nicer.”

The death of his great-grandmother prompted Mr. Jansen to take a trip to the Totencafé and has also sparked a desire to work in the funeral industry.

The Totencafé has been around since 2019 – a monthly get-together over coffee and cake, often between total strangers.

It was created by end-of-life doulas Leigh Connell and Lynn Redwig, who discussed the concept at a thing-to-know fair.

“It’s very easy. The goal really is to get together and talk about death and dying in a safe space,” Ms Connell said.

“It’s an opportunity for people to speak out about something that’s quite taboo and there are people who want to speak out but they’re turned down.”

The death cafe movement is growing.

It started in the UK in 2011 and has since held an estimated 14,000+ meetings in 81 countries.

The participants are unknown to each other, some are dying, others have lost a loved one and there are those seeking advice in planning their funeral.

The Tasmanian branch had participants aged 18 to late 80’s.

Funerals are a hot topic.

“What really turns people on is going to a funeral and finding it a little hollow. Sometimes they come out and think, ‘I don’t want mine like that,'” Ms Connell said.

“People are really starting to think about what they want in the future and want to document that.”

“Little information” about the end of life

End-of-life doula Lynn Redwig said the cafe isn’t as morbid as the name might suggest.

“When people hear about it, they might think it’s a little bit serious and a little bit sad, but we have quite a bit of giggles and laughs,” Ms Redwig said.

“It’s always fascinating because you never know who’s going to show up and who’s bringing what into the room.”

Nikita Harris has visited the Death Cafe three times and said she has “always been interested in the subject that nobody talks about”.

She worked in geriatric care for nine years.

“They often call aged care facilities God’s waiting room. I’ve met some of the most incredible people and had the privilege of being with them in their final moments. I was wondering what happens when you die,” Ms. Harris said.

“Often there were people who wouldn’t eat or drink, and they might say, ‘My husband is coming for me,’ and her husband had died years ago.”

End-of-life doulas Leigh Connell and Lynn Redwig (left and center) set up the Death Cafe.(abc news)

Ms Harris said death could be handled better in aged care.

“There’s a lot of rushing in the industry to move the body after they die, but I want people to know that they have the time to sit with their loved ones, the opportunity to wash their loved ones, them dress, to take their loved ones home if they choose to do so,” said Ms. Harris.

“Even for employees, there is very little end-of-life information and end-of-life training in the industry.

“There just needs to be more care and concern and more love given.”

Death Café co-founder Ms Redwig also works as a school nurse and would like talking about death to become part of the school curriculum.

“I said to the Headmistress, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was part of the Australian curriculum to teach children from an early age to be familiar with the subject of death and to become familiar with the concept of death and dying'” , said she said.

“It’s important that we live in a world where we can talk about it, because sooner or later it’s going to happen to everyone.”

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