The Death Café: Eating cake and discussing the end

This week's "Library Talks" looks at what it took to put together a gathering where death is the primary topic of discussion.

I had the most horrific adventure two weekends ago.  It started well, with an invite from CTV Winnipeg to speak about the Brandon Public Library’s Death Café program on the morning show.

Wait. What kind of café?

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A Death Café. It is literally a program where participants eat cake and discuss death. Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid of the UK hosted the first Café in 2011. Since then, thousands have been held worldwide. You can find out more at deathcafe.com.

My friend Sandy Jasper, Administrator of the Brandon Municipal Cemetery, suggested trying a Death Café in Brandon. Sandy knew someone who knew someone named Chris, who was running this “Death Café thing” in Virden. What did I think?

I thought it sounded grand. We phoned Chris, who would be our facilitator. Long story short, by the time CTV phoned me, plans were in place to run Death Cafés at the library on March 7, April 8, and May 7.

CTV invited me to the Winnipeg studio the following Friday. Perfect. I didn’t work on Friday. I could drive in Thursday night, stay with a friend, do the interview Friday morning, and be home by noon.

Complications reared immediately. My ex-boyfriend lives in Winnipeg. When he broke up with me, I’d sworn to never set foot in the city again. On the other hand, a television appearance seemed a pretty slick way to reclaim the city. On the other hand, it would be weird to go to Winnipeg and not even see him.

So, I texted him. We agreed on lunch.       

Thursday after work, I headed east. My car smelled marvelously of butter and vanilla from the Death Café cake Sandy had special-ordered from Chez Angela to appear with me on CTV.

First disaster: on Portage, my front tire blew. It couldn’t carry me all the way to my friend’s house, so I limped instead to my ex-boyfriend’s apartment.

He didn’t answer when I buzzed. I sat in his foyer, holding the cake and crying until he let me in. I then cried in his living room for the rest of the evening. I was definitely reclaiming the city.

In the morning, I trudged to CTV. I did the interview. It went well. I left the cake at the studio and phoned CAA.

Next disaster: after several hours at an auto-repair shop, it was determined my tire was shot. No replacement was available. I missed lunch. I phoned other shops. No one had a Fiat 500 tire in stock. I was supposed to work at nine the next morning.

I phoned my ex-boyfriend and we agreed on dinner. Afterwards, I would drive home to Brandon on my temporary donut tire.

We met for dinner. I started crying immediately. Snow started falling. I was not going to make it to Brandon. I spent a second night at his apartment, crying all over everything. (Did I mention this was not a mutual breakup?) I phoned my co-worker to open the library.

Saturday morning, I finally peeled myself away from that downtown apartment. I drove home at 50 kilometres an hour, the maximum speed for my temporary tire. The drive took five hours, cost me my Saturday shift, and constituted the least slick breakup maneuver of my life.

Was it worth it? That weekend, no. I dragged myself around in a horrible haze all day Saturday, Sunday, and well into Monday.

Monday afternoon, a woman in the YMCA change room exclaimed, “I saw you on TV. I’d like to sign up for that program.” A dozen others had already registered by the time I started work.

Maybe the mission was worth it? No one needed to know what a fiasco it had been. No one, that is, until I wrote about it in the paper.

Danielle is the Acting Chief Librarian – Programming and Outreach at the Brandon Public Library. You can contact Danielle directly at Danielle@wmrl.ca.

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