Dying Is A Hot Topic In Hundreds of 'Death Cafes' Across Australia

In the words of Pink Floyd, "you've gotta go some time".

Dotted around Australia are almost 360 'death cafes', where people meet to chat about their finite mortality over a hot cuppa.

Death isn't your average conversation starter, but hundreds of death cafe facilitators are working to bring it out of the taboo and into the mainstream.

Vickie Hingston-Jones is an end-of-life doula who decided to move from birthing to end-of-life work after attending over 350 births, including multiple miscarriages.

Vickie Hingston-Jones. Image supplied.

Hingston-Jones facilitates "death cafes" in Canberra where people openly and frankly discuss all aspects of dying.

"No one wants to die in a hospital full of tubes. It’s about knowing what your options are and allowing nature to work its course," she told 10 daily.

"People don’t discuss death, they don’t face it, they don’t plan for it until it happens. It’s an area that needs more education."

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I spoke with Hingston-Jones while she was driving home from organising a man's funeral.

When I referred to someone "passing away", she politely shut me down.

"No, we don’t use that," she said.

"It’s like when people say 'sorry for your loss'. You want to say 'my husband died, it’s not car keys." She paused, before laughing: "Sorry, what was your question again?"

READ MORE: Dreamt About Death Recently? Here’s Why.

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While it's mainly older women who attend death cafes, Hingston-Jones said we should be talking about death "as soon as we can talk".

"We have sex education in school, I’d love to see death education in school," Hington-Jones said.

"Death isn’t owned by old folk. Kids should be going to funerals and burying their dead budgies in the backyard and know what death is."

An advocate for natural burials, Hingston-Jones wants to be buried rather than cremated, and said funerals "are for those left behind".

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"I’m not afraid of death. I have strict instructions that I’m dying at home with champagne in bed," Hingston-Jones said.

"Some people plan their funeral down to the last flower but I think the people organising the funeral should write their own eulogies, select their own music."

Death cafes rose to prominence after Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid started their own in East London in 2011.

They adapted the idea from a Swiss sociologist, Bernard Crettaz, who had organised “café mortels” to foster more open discussions of death.

READ MORE: From 'Death Knocks' To Dead Bodies: Why Journalists Became Funeral Workers

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In less than 10 years, death cafes have spread throughout Europe, Australia and America, with almost 8,700 death cafes in 65 countries.

Vicki Barry is palliative care worker in Perth. She became fascinated with death after her own near-death experience, during a car crash when she was 17 years old.

After the car accident, she experienced a chain of deaths: her father to terminal cancer and the death of a friend who was killed in a motorbike accident.

vicki barry
Vicki Barry. Photo: Supplied.

It was her during her father's funeral that Barry decided to get involved in end-of-life work.

The funeral marred with family tension over how it should be planned, with Barry's mother arguing he should be cremated -- against his personal wishes.

As a single mother, Barry became worried about what would happen to her children if she died suddenly.

"[In Australia] we're really death phobic," Barry told 10 daily.

"The pain that comes at the end is about not existing anymore, death being finite and that people haven't contemplated death and might have unfinished business."

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"I had one guy in [at the death cafe] who had both his sons [die by] suicide. We've got a romantic idea of death but that's not what death is. I read that hundreds of people have died in India taking selfies," she said.

READ MORE: I Was Dead For Two Minutes. Here's What I Saw.

Like Hingston-Jones, Barry wants a natural burial where she's wrapped in a biodegradable shroud without a coffin.

"I have a funeral plan, it's called my F plan. I have a departure book that has all my passwords and everything to tie up my loose ends. I want to be buried within 24 hours at Kings Park where I first fell in love with Perth in 1985," Barry said.

"I know a lot about loss, death and grief but it's given me a zest for life. I really appreciate every living moment."

Contact Eden on Twitter @edengillespie