Drogheda is a location which has two cemeteries within walking distance of its town centre. Situated on the North and South of the Boyne River, there is probably no more than 2 kilometres separating both. The town’s footfall is familiar with the sight of funeral corteges making the last journey for the deceased to either of the final resting places.
It would be sensationalist to say death stalks the streets of Drogheda, but it is certainly a feature. If there is a dread of death expressing itself in the sentiment there for the grace of whatever go I, a body has sprang up in the town which aims to help people better understand the end of life and assuage the anxiety associated with it.
The Drogheda Death Café is the outworking of an idea nurtured by two Co Louth women, Liza Clancy and Sarah Gardiner. Although not articulated as such, it is something that rests comfortably in a wider concept known as the Death Positive movement, developed by Megan Rosenbloom and Caitlin Doughty. The latter asking: ‘Why are there a zillion websites and references to being sex positive and nothing for being death positive?’
Launched earlier this year, the Drogheda Death Café hopes to complete its fourth event of 2022. The organisers, Liza and Sarah, go the extra mile to make the setting a relaxed and social affair. Even when staged on the premises of the town’s leading funeral director, there was not a scintilla of the morbidity that people often associate with such settings.
Liza and Sarah are qualified celebrants. Their work brings them into the living world of funerary ritual. Liza stressed to Being Human, the importance of ritual to the human condition. As death the world over is an event saturated in ritualism, both women were puzzled as to why there was a reluctance for death to be if not a taboo subject, then certainly a hush one. Their objective is to get people to discuss death more than is currently fashionable. She insists that the Drogheda Death Café is not a therapy session or a grief circle. Its emphasis is on seeking to demystify the greatest mystery in the world: in other words, there is nothing mysterious about it – in order to live all life has to be capable of dying. Nothing that cannot die by necessity can never have lived. To that end both Liza and Sarah have created an environment in which people can have a conversation. Liza describes it as the pebble thrown into the lake, it ripples out and can have the soothing effect of allaying anxieties.
From the two events I have thus far attended, there is nothing objectionable in that. While the curiosity is restless, the conversation is relaxed. A range of books not often seen in used bookstores, of which Drogheda has many, are laid out letting people know that there is a body of literature they can easily access.
The success of the venture up to now lies in what Liza attributes to the mission of Drogheda Death Café - a life affirming experience. For her, the rug of life can be pulled from beneath your feet in an instant. Recognising that by understanding, rather than dreading through ignorance, the will to live life to the full can be galvanised to the max.
The organisers are not cheerleaders for death, just people who want their fellow human beings to get more out of the life they have. They find that people often do not disarticulate the process of dying from the finality of death. Death is merely the final act, where the curtain comes down never to be raised again. The message seems to be one of manage your dying; the death will manage itself.
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