Claudette Bouchard facilitates discussions on all aspects of death and dying at the Vernon Death Café. The next session is Nov. 9 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.

Death Café helps start the discussion

A movement that began in Europe and has spread around the world makes its Vernon debut

Last year, Claudette Bouchard found her life touched by death in a way it had not been before.

“Several close friends had family members die and I was feeling compassion and empathy and thinking about the meaning of life and my own mortality. I saw ads for the Death Café (at the Coast) and found it intriguing and uplifting,” she said. “Our culture does not talk much about death as part of life but in Europe there is a long tradition of discussions about many science and philosophy topics, including death. I thought people might want something like that here.”

The idea for the Café comes from Switzerland, where it was developed in 2004 by Bernard Cretaz for his PhD dissertation. He named it Café Mortels. Because the topic of death is a frightful, fascinating and important one, Cretaz decided to create a Death Café.

In 2011 Jon Underwood of London, England heard of it when it was in Paris and together with his mother Sue Barsky-Reid, a psychotherapist, they launched an international movement complete with downloadable PDF information found at deathcafe.org. Since then, the international Death Café has spread to 33 countries. Don Morris started Canada’s Death Café movement by hosting a Café in Victoria in December 2012.

There are Death Cafés on the North Shore, in Abbotsford and Maple Ridge, and Bouchard recently met with Kristy Martel in Revelstoke who hosted a couple of Death Café evenings with about 50 people attending each one.

Around the same time, Bouchard started thinking about an idea she had heard of years ago, that of the profession of end-of-life doula. Doula, usually thought of as being a birth assistant, comes from a Greek word meaning woman who serves. She took the end-of-life doula training in Vancouver and realized that she had taken this role many times as she helped people around her. The end-of-life doula acts as an advocate, source of information and support for people and families as death approaches.

Bouchard also called on her 30 years’ experience in life energy work, including 15 years’ work and training in Japan.

“The individual is physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and psychic and those energies have to be in balance. Your energy and how you direct it makes an important difference to how you feel and to your life,” she said. “It matters at the end of life, your own or that of others. People need a safe and confidential place to be able to talk about death and the losses that can lead up to it.

“We also talk about how people can make their wishes known and respected for how they want to die. I think each person takes away what they need. Maybe not immediately, but at some time when it is right for them.”

Bouchard stressed that this is not a grief support group although people will sometimes talk about grief. She will make referrals to grief support groups or counsellors and suggests other sources of information and books that are available in the library.

“People may not take the time to give attention to how they feel about death. They might even feel they somehow need permission to talk about it and make their thoughts known. There can be a fear of the unknown which is less when you know about the practical things, for yourself or others. The focus of the Death Café is to make life more meaningful and enjoyable by understanding all its phases. I have had very positive response to the evaluations of the sessions so far and some good suggestions of things we can add, and I’m open to more.”

Bouchard works as a life energy coach and end-of-life doula in the North Okanagan and also has clients in Tokyo, Paris and across North America.

The next Death Café sessions are Nov. 9 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. and Nov. 23 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Vernon library. The sessions are free, no registration is required, tea and cookies supplied. People may attend one or all sessions, as each is different depending on what the participants want to discuss.

For more information, contact Bouchard at 250-938-4345 or www.claudettebouchard.com.