Glynis German is the founder of the Mallorca Death Cafe. If the name conjures up a hipster Mexican Day of the Dead or Goth themed joint with skulls for ashtrays, as it did for me at first, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Mallorca Death Cafe is part of the growing Death Cafe movement, spreading rapidly across Europe, North America and Australasia. At a Death Cafe, people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. While this description suggests a certain kind of British black humour, the objective is serious: ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their finite lives.’
Death Cafe is a ‘social franchise’. People who sign up to the guide and principles posted on the movement’s website can post events and talk to the press as an affiliate. Almost 6,000 Death Cafes have been offered since 2011 in 52 countries.
Glynis German has been organising Mallorca Death Cafes since 2015. Well-known on the island, Glynis is an island radio personality, wedding celebrant and provider of end of life care trained to provide people with spiritual accompaniment through the death process. As she says, I ‘offer my services at a time when people need love, respect and compassion to help them through to the next stage of their lives – both the dying and their families in a holistic manner’.
I talked to Glynis about how she became involved in the Death Cafe movement and why we seem to have woken up to the place of death in our lives.
From the Happiness Cafe to the Death Cafe
‘I used to have a radio show called Happiness Café in Mallorca and I was always looking for people to interview. A friend shared their experience of a Death Cafe in London. I was intrigued and got in touch with Jon Underwood, the founder of the movement. I asked him if there were any Death Cafes in Mallorca. “There are now,” he said. “You’re founding it.”’
Since then, Glynis has held Mallorca Death Cafe events in her home village of Binissalem, Palma and Deia – at S’Hortet, Jane Winterbottom’s holistic centre and Hotel Es Molí – in late 2016. Most recently she organised a Death Cafe for All Souls Day on 2 November 2017 with the Tree of Knowledge group in Capdella and another with the Pizca de Sciencia group in Palma on 18th December. ‘I’m very keen if people who already have groups set up invite me along,’ Glynis says.
I wondered what kind of person comes along to a Mallorca Death Cafe. ‘Every kind. We have people of all ages, from 12 to 80. They may have profound ideas about death or want to talk about their fear of dying. We have professionals who help in the moment of death and dying, including nurses involved with palliative care.’
And what has taking part in Death Cafes taught Glynis. ‘I’m always someone who’s been very good at judging,’ she says, ‘my ego is massive. I used to be anti assisted dying – my hackles would rise when people talked about it. But I really knew nothing. Because Death Cafes are all about deep listening, I’ve become more open and accepting and I now understand that people have their reasons. In any case, none of us know what happens after death and no-one’s come back to tell us about it, so we’re all on an equal footing.’
Apart from becoming less judgemental, is there one thing Glynis has learned above all else? ‘We die how we live, we live how we die. It’s as simple as that.’
The Spanish way of dying
One of the things I love about living in Spain is the attitude to death, as expressed in the celebrations for the Day of the Dead. Would Glynis say there are significant cultural differences between Mallorca and the UK? ‘Of course, but I’m most interested in what happens before and during death. Family is incredibly important in Spanish life and this provides so much support.’
What about dying in Spain? ‘Just two decades ago, when someone died at home their neighbours could stop by, pay their condolences and say goodbye. Now the grey van arrives and the body is whisked away. But I’m working with the EMF cemetery in Palma and the crematorium at Marratxi to do things differently. So, while it’s not possible to do natural or composting burials in Mallorca yet, I’m hoping it will be in the not too distant future. At the moment, if you’d like your ashes scattered on the land, there’s a guy in Valencia who can help but that’s about it.’
Although natural burials aren’t yet possible in Mallorca, it is perfectly acceptable to scatter someone’s ashes at sea, right? ‘Absolutely, Glynis says. ‘The crematorium in Marratxi has beautiful urns made out of sea salt.’
Something in the air
The same day as I saw a Facebook post for Glynis’s most recent Death Cafe in Binissalem, I read a Guardian article called ‘How death got cool’. This focuses on a kind of hispterisation of death, including rather cool burial pyjamas seeded with mushrooms that help your body decompose more quickly.
I asked Glynis why she thought our attitude to death was changing. ‘Because it’s time,’ she told me. ‘In the west, we’ve had an immature fear-based attitude until now. Because of our lack of willingness to understand. We’re fortunate that the pioneers on the death and dying scene are such incredible people. We now have soul midwives and death doulas who offer comfort and help make sure people are able to die at home.’
After I’d finished chatting to Glynis, I thought about how our fear of death so often prevents us from having a healthy, open discussion. Before I wrote this article, I was wary that the subject of death might be too much of a turn-off. I hope it isn’t.
Because, as Glynis says, this coyness doesn’t help us at all. ‘People who are more natural about death and dying fill others with hope. At the last Mallorca Death Cafe in Binissalem, a couple who were parents of young children arrived full of fear and left comforted. This is why Death Cafes exist.’
Music to Die to: Release for Peace – Ascending into EternaLife
Daniel Alzamora-Dickin has just released a beautiful peace of music ‘recorded to sonicaress the mother of a loved one as she passes into Spirit’. I listened to it over and over while I was writing this post. It made for the perfect accompaniment. Download Music to Die to here.
The next Mallorca Death Cafe will be on 26 January from 18h to 20h in Alcudia, VerdTeca, C/Lledoner 13.
Glynis would love to be invited to offer more Death Cafes in Deia and other parts of the island. If you’d like to host or help arrange a Death Cafe please contact her at email@example.com or call +34 971 870 235/ +34 666 987 430.