Coffee, a camera crew and a stopcock

You Only Die Once, Dying Matters 2014 Awareness Week slogan
You Only Die Once, Dying Matters 2014 Awareness Week slogan

Abbey’s Director Christine Parker reflects:

Back in January this year, I went to the Dying Matters Awareness Week launch in London with a colleague from the National Society of  Allied and Independent Funeral Directors. I came away totally inspired to really ‘do something’ this year.

Deciding on an event that would work in a rural town in Kent was challenging. What about a Death Café? I wasn’t sure that Tonbridge was quite ready .

Coffee mornings seemed a safe bet but even they need a bit of an edge. The more I thought about the message from Dying Matters, the more convinced I became that I needed to write some sort of guide book.

Cue: Five Things to Do Before I Die. A project which began on two sides of A4 ended up as a 26 page booklet: it just grew and grew. I was pleased with the finished article, something to launch in Awareness Week and hand out to visitors.

We decided to use two different venues: Abbey’s premises in Tonbridge on Wednesday 14 May and Cafe Bliss, my friend’s community café, three miles away, on the Friday.

OK, I thought. If we’re going to host an event at our funeral services building, why not make it access all areas: a sort of open day?

Wednesday worked well. Some dozen visitors, wanting to talk about all aspects of end of life and some very keen to see behind the scenes.

One lady said: “I’m coming to you when I die; it’s nice to see where I will be.”

A couple went home to write instructions for each other: how to use the washing machine, where to find the stopcock and how to use the on-line banking.

A solicitor who popped in found himself engaged in a conversation about wills.

There was a lot of laughing: all very positive.

When I returned some borrowed cups to the Church the next day, I met a lady who’d attended. She’d emailed a friend in America about where she’d been – and the friend has asked for a copy of the book. Does that mean I’ve gone global?

Friday: Wow! Couldn’t be more different: a wonderful warm sunny day so we took it outside. How surreal, chatting to a little group about green funerals and the carbon footprint left by coffin manufacturers,while sitting in sunshine beside the busy arterial road between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells.

The arrival of a camera crew caused  interest, with people from neighbouring businesses peering out to see what was going on. People who would have passed by any other day suddenly had a burning desire to come into Café Bliss and be  part of the filming. Never mind it will only ever air in South Korea and their friends and family are unlikely to witness their rise to stardom …

My interview was interesting. Although Cheng, the lovely young man who conducted it spoke excellent English, he’s not a native speaker. Some of the questions were lost in translation.

‘What is your opinion about gap between life and death?’

‘Sorry I don’t understand. Generally, in my experience, there is no gap. You’re either alive or you’re dead … ‘

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