Josie Baker, left, and Tamsyn Loat talk in the lobby of the Tatamagouche Centre. The two women are two of four organizers to local Death Café events, and the centre is hosting a Home Funeral Practicum this autumn. Raissa Tetanish photo

Once a taboo subject, death is becoming more and more common to hear in conversation.

That’s why four residents have organized and hosted two Death Cafés, and with a third in the works.

“As organizers, we had a drive inside us to bring the conversation of death to life,” said Tamsyn Loat, who planned the cafés along with three others – Josie Baker, Bronwen Hook, and Suzanne Hirsch. “It’s so important to have an event like this.”

The first café was held with about 30 in attendance, and another 20 participated in the second event, held last month.

The cafés started in London as an open space series of small group discussions without any agenda.

“It gave people a space to talk about death,” said Baker, the executive director of the Tatamagouche Centre. “It’s sometimes a taboo subject, and this is to break the silence about death. Everyone is dealing with death in one way or another, and it’s nice to have a space for that discussion, with coffee and tea.”
Baker said the organizers were surprised by the turnout for both events.

“There was a lot of interest from a lot of local people. Some were of different religions, and some had an hour drive to get here,” she added. “The conversations ranged from very deep to light-hearted, and a lot spoke from personal experience.”

Loat said there weren’t many of the same faces in attendees between the first and second café, although there were a few who attended both.

“I really enjoyed how lively and joyful they were,” she said. “I think each story, no matter how emotional, reached a humorous stage. They were really balanced, and it was a lot of fun.”

There is another Death Café planned for May 28, with the location to be announced.

Along with the Death Cafés events, death and dying will be the subject of a two-day workshop.

The Tatamagouche Centre is hosting a Home Funeral Practicum, with Dr. Don Morris, from Nov. 16 to 18.

“We’re always talking about bringing in experts to talk about their skills,” said Baker. “Don Morris comes highly recommended.”

The workshop will focus on taking care of loved ones for a home funeral, covering topics such as body care (washing and dressing), transportation, and green burials.

“It will give participants the hands-on experience and skills to take care of their love ones after they’ve died,” said Baker. “It’s really empowering. Oftentimes, family members will say they want to be buried under a tree, and this practicum gives people those skills.”

“Home funerals have been conversations in our gatherings and we’ve had group meetings about dying and death care,” said Loat. “So we know people have been active on the topic. Just like the cafés, we want to create a dialog on the subject. This will leave people with those practical skills.”

Baker said the centre has received some funding for the workshop, which will help cover some costs for attendees. Scholarships are available, with the scholarship application deadline for the workshop being June 17.

“We want to make this entirely available to people who are interested in building their skills in the community,” she said.

Participants to the workshop will practice moving, washing, shrouding, casketing, and vilgiling models in a sacred space. Legalities, logistics, health concerns, and death-doula ethics will also be covered. Attendees will learn:

  • how to move, wash and dress a live model’s body
  • about safety and universal health practices
  • about shrouding and casketing
  • the legalities regarding self-transportation and all logistical paperwork
  • the rituals for different faiths and beliefs
  • what this tradition of loving care could mean for you and your loved ones

Morris is a retired funeral director and cemeterian, who retrained as a therapeutic counsellor. He brought the Green Burial Council to Canada in 2010 after concerns for the environment with wasteful and harmful funeral industry practices.

More information on the Home Funeral Practicum, including cost and scholarship forms, is available online at The final registration deadline is Nov. 1.