Santiago, el Death Cafe and shaking like a dog during firework season

Finsbury Park Death Cafe happens every month at Blighty Cafe on Blackstock Road, lovely wee gaff. I first went last December, again in January and this month, December again. I met Santiago at the January one and pretty much instantly we were best friends. We’ve since become a bit more so it was nice to go back with him this month for the first time since we met there at the beginning of the year.

At the January Death Cafe, a journalist from the Guardian was there and published this article afterwards: it features a photo of Santi and me and the first time we met. This time round there was a girl recording audio for a BBC Worldwide documentary and she asked to interview us afterwards because our story is ‘media-friendly’. Santi spoke with her but I was busy hugging another lady who had got a bit emotional at the end of the event. So anyway here I am BLOGGING ABOUT IT.

We didn’t get the ‘dress colourfully’ memo Pic: Linda Nyland for the Guardian

The Death Cafe movement (they call it a movement) was started in the UK by Jon Underwood in 2011 at his house in Hackney – anything that happened in 2011 takes on another layer of meaning to me since my brother died that year, on the 11th day of the 11th month. Underwood’s mum, a psychotherapist, facilitated the Death Cafe, whose objective is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’. You sit in small groups and start off by saying why you’re there; this leads into a wider discussion and if it doesn’t there’s wee prompt questions on the table, as well as a facilitator kind of overseeing the group so everyone lets each other talk and that. The conversation developed organically all three times I’ve gone to the one in Finsbury Park.

Santi and Figaro, who is no longer with us (RIP, Figaro)

On this occasion, our table got to discussing acceptance of death and how difficult it is to witness a loved one railing against a terminal cancer diagnosis, for example. This led into a wider conversation about how such strong emotions won’t necessarily die with the person: they can alter the line of DNA for the generations to come. I won’t even try to do this justice here: best to read around the subject for the science part.

A man called John, who teaches TRE (Trauma/Tension/Stress Release Exercises) and knows his shit about consciousness and the wisdom of the body and all that jazz, explained Family Constellations to me after describing the anger of his father right to the very end on his deathbed. Santi had previously educated me about this but without using the constellations term: basically the phenomenon where stuff, secrets, stress, get passed through the generations of a family and cause problemos until they are addressed (and eventually resolved). This resonated greatly, because my family line is not one filled with talkers… talkers of small-town goings-on, yes: who’s sick, who’s dead, who’s a closet homosexual – and isn’t the weather SHITE?? Talking about the innermost hauntings, dreams and dolores of one’s soul, not so much. In contrast, when I told Santi recently that I believed I was experiencing my first hemorrhoid, he didn’t hesitate to offer to look (which he then did) and also assist me in naming this rectal visitor: Kenny. Kenny McPile.

TRE comprises a series of exercises, not a million miles removed from yoga positions, which activate this natural reflex mechanism we have of shaking or vibrating. It’s the shaking that dogs do when fireworks are going on: we get all ‘it’s okay, calm down, you’re safe’ but actually these canines are wiser than we are, they’re discharging the adrenaline and whatnot so that the nervous system is calmed. In a TRE session we achieve the same release of muscular tension and our body is encouraged to return to a state of balance with reduced stress levels. Emotions we’ve stored for years can be released and a more relaxed state of being achieved.

A panda, not a dog, but look at the panda!! Also Santi reminds me of a panda and I sometimes call him Panda because of this.

This blog post is obviously  a bit random, but I’m feeling a bit random and can identify the whole December/Christmas/New Year reflection/regret/hope thing as an instigator of this: does that ever change? I’m glad to have returned to the Death Cafe and to have got talking with John, who happened to know the one other person I’ve thus far come across in the world (a lovely yoga teacher called Mieke) who knows about TRE and previously told me it’s some proper good shit but I didn’t follow it through at the time.

I find the universe is full of wee coincidences and synchronicities like this when we choose to open our eyes to them, trust and move forward with curiosity rather than judgement. There’s a weekly TRE group handily located in Finsbury Park so it’s now another tool in my arsenal for this Hunger Games thing we call life, which never stops throwing challenges at us but it’s what we do with them that makes us. I guess in many ways this post is something of a gracias to Santiago and the Death Cafe for sinking this truth ever deeper into my (genetically-predisposed) worrier bones.

In the words of the beautiful Florence and the Machine ‘it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back…. So shake him off.’


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