Death and Cakes - the only two things certain at a Death Jam
Can talking about dying and loss be fun? Alom Shaha, who spoke at the inaugural Death Jam this week, thinks so
“They’ve gone to a better place”. Could there be a more obnoxious lie than this when someone you love dies? This is one of the things we discussed at the inaugural Death Jam event held earlier this week in Islington, North London. Organised by Els Merryprice, Death Jam is her take on the Death Cafe movement, where “people come together in a relaxed and safe setting to drink tea and eat delicious cake and discuss death”.
Els, who has lost several family members including her mother, says that “talking about [death] is always loaded with emotion...I find myself omitting certain things from the conversation, or deliberately not mentioning it at all for fear of people thinking I just want sympathy. It’s strange, I never realised how much so until I had the opportunity to chat to total strangers about it.”
She first chatted to “total strangers” about death when she attended a Death Cafe event last summer and says that she “left there feeling like I’d been able to be completely honest about loss for the first time in a long time”. She decided that she wanted to carry on talking about death, but that “as a humanist and an anthropologist” she wanted to “explore the concept further from a more scientific perspective”.
She invited me to be a speaker at the first Death Jam and I’m really glad I agreed, because otherwise I would have missed out on a remarkable experience. The tea and cakes were truly delicious but the highlight of the evening for me was a talk by the humanist philosopher Peter Cave who made the audience laugh and think in equal measure. It felt like most of the audience enjoyed the event and it's had positive reviews.
The Jams are monthly and on the agenda will be alternative funeral arrangements (March), and "Death in the City" (April) featuring the author of "Necropolis: London and its dead" and a presentation from a Crossrail engineer about the burials they've uncovered during works. Check Els’ blog for details nearer the time.