What is a death café?: A 2SLGBTQIA+ perspective

News & Updates | September 2, 2022 | Tiana Dargent

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A Death Café is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session; however the environment is supportive to sharing difficult experiences. The aim is to bring people together to discuss this often taboo subject, and to extend these conversations outward in their social circles. Death is a part of life and dealing with that reality can be a truly liberating experience. Death Cafés are volunteer run and are always free of charge.  

Having attended a few Death Cafés previously, and unable to find much in the way of services or resources for community-specific death care in my area but also more broadly, for the last two years, I have been facilitating 2SLGBTQIA+ Death Cafés virtually over Zoom. Who is present from month to month is generally an international mix of regulars, and first-time Death Café attendees. Participants are encouraged to engage to their comfort level by video, voice, or text, and are supported with closed captioning, and a group who consistently holds space with care. In the groups I facilitate, everyone gets the opportunity to ask questions, share ideas, and lead the discussion to an area of their interest. 

In this space people from 2SLGBTQIA+ communities gather to discuss our experiences, fears, joys, thoughts, and feelings around the topics of death, dying, and grief. The most common piece of feedback I get is that is it relieving, affirming, and inspiring to navigate these heartfelt topics in a dedicated 2SLGBTQIA+ space. Here, we are able to speak more freely because the realities of how we express our sexualities and our genders are more thoroughly understood. There is more similarity in the way we each navigate our lives, within systems which were not made for us. 

Although the particularities of what is discussed remains confidential, some themes that are specific to 2SLGBTQIA+ communities come up again and again. 

An over-arching theme is how our experiences at the end of life are inextricably linked to our experiences with health care and social support systems. In Canada and beyond, health care settings are often a site of harm for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and more so where it intersects with racialized, and disabled communities. Within that theme, we discuss the complexities of navigating MAID when we are often denied systemic support for living healthy and dignified lives. MAID is an important option for many people and can offer them the kinds of dignified deaths they desire. Unfortunately, in our communities, it is often easier to access MAID than it is to access lifesaving support and care like affordable and safe housing, health care that is well-researched and informed on the needs of our communities, and health care that is accessible outside of urban centres. In that context, with less freedom of choice, we turn to each other’s past experiences, and dreams for the present and future, to buoy us through our decision making. 

Given the broad range of age and experiences of participants, we often also get to hear direct stories relating to the 2SLGBTQIA+ lineage of mutual aid, advocacy, and community health care. We’ve had lesbians share their experiences giving compassionate health care to gay men suffering and dying of HIV/AIDS in the 80’s and 90’s. We’ve had queer couples talk about how the right to marry was won and afforded them the right to visit each other in hospital, while leaving out those of us for whom marriage is not the goal nor the ideal. We’ve had trans people talk about their experiences with peer-to-peer health care education, making decisions about surgical procedures and finding safe and supportive doctors. We are inspired to action within our own lives. We give each other possibility models to use and expand on. 

We also often talk about our dreams and ideals for wholesome care at end of life. Sometimes it revolves around roadblocks to care in our existing systems and how to navigate them, but more often, we are dreaming bigger. What are health and death care practices that specifically reflect they myriad creative ways we live our lives? What would it look like to have holistic care integrated into the ways we live? How can we invert the current systems which are based on serving the majority, to systems which support the most precarious, thus granting equity for all? 

Of course, we also talk about other aspects of death, dying, and grief. We share profound moments with dying loved ones. We explore what we think happens to us after death. We talk about our diagnoses and how we manage our daily lives around them. We share the little miracles that tell us our dead are close and caring. And so much more. I could never capture everything that is a 2SLGBTQIA+ Death Café. 

If you are a member of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, I invite you to join us for a Death Café. They take place once a month on a Tuesday evening, from 7:00-8:30 pm eastern time. They are always free. If you’re interested simply register and you’ll be sent to zoom link. I hope to see you there! 

Tiana Dargent (she/her), of Queer Community Deathcare, is a white, cisgender, Queer Femme. In addition to hosting regular 2SLGBTQIA+ Death Cafés, she offers training and consultation to end of life practitioners and organizations with the aim of removing roadblocks to equitable and culturally competent care. 

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