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  • Writer's pictureBob Quinn

Our Dying Tradition

'After my husband was buried, I looked at the ground beside him, and I thought, "That's where I'll be one day myself," says one woman. "If I could go to my own funeral, I'd like to wear my wedding dress" notes someone else.

"I think asking a friend to carry out final wishes is easier than asking a family member. My friend known that mine are in my documents, under 'F' for funeral," say another.

There are many curious pockets of the internet, but one cold Thursday evening, I found a particularly wholesome and lovely corner amid it all. I am attending an online death cafe, where everybody is encouraged to talk freely about dying, death and bereavement. A dozen or so Irish attendees - including a priest and undertaker are on the call, with their wine, gin or tea in front of them. There's talk of forgiving other people. There's humour; soft gentle humour. There's talk in the difficulties involved in relaying wishes to family members. There is much mention of how hard any of these conversations are to instigate in everyday life.

Ahead of the event, one or two friends visibly blanch when I mention the existence of a virtual death cafe - "Why would you want to go to something like that?" - but the truth is these conversations feel like the stuff of life. At one point, I tear up at how beautifully vulnerable and intimate the strangers on this Zoom call are allowing themselves to be.

"Death hasn't come out of the closet yet, but its foot is peeking out the door", says Seamus O'Mahony, a visiting professor at the Centre for the Humanities and Health at King's College, London, who worked as a hospital consultant for many years. "Sex used to be the big taboo, and now it's death".

After I attend the virtual death cafe, I speak to its co-host, Bob Quinn. As a financial adviser, he's had many a conversation about dying and final wishes with clients. The death of his cousin last year hammered home the realisation that openly talking about dying was something the Irish needed to get better at.

He began co-hosting online death cafes earlier this year with Aine McDaid whom he met on a family holiday last year.

"It's not necessarily a bereavement support group - rather the vibe is 'I'm Bob and I'm going to die, hopefully not imminently, but it is an inevitability'. It turns out that death is a great leveller.

"Some attendees have expressed their absolute fear and despair. The bravery it takes and the sense of discomfort it must involve when your biggest fear is death just goes to show how many people appreciate facing their fears head on."

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