WITH the number of deaths rising every day due to the coronavirus pandemic, the question of death - and how mentally prepared for it we are - is at the forefront of many people's minds.

For Jane Grayer – a celebrant from Abergavenny – death and dying should be normal topics of conversation.

She has worked as a celebrant for the past five years, which means she creates and conducts all kinds of ceremonies including weddings, namings and funerals - or “celebrations of life”, as she prefers to call them.

“As a celebrant I’m not restricted by any religious constraints, but can create a unique ceremony which truly reflects the character and life of the person, while also bringing comfort and support to the family and friends,” she explained.

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“When I meet with families for the first time they are often at a loss, not knowing what music would be most appropriate or whether a cremation or a burial would be what their loved one wanted.

“In many ways death is no longer seen as part of life, and so people often avoid any conversations about it.”

This lack of willingness to normalise death as a conversation is one of the reasons she set up Abergavenny Death Café in 2018.

The Death Café is an international movement to start the conversation around death and dying.

“There seems to have been a shift so that now death is thought of as a failure, unhealthy and not an appropriate thing to talk about. We’ve socially distanced ourselves from death.”

Ms Grayer has not only conducted numerous ceremonies, but has also had her own experiences of the death of a loved one.

“My father died 15 years ago and it was the first time I’d had a really close experience of bereavement," she said.

“I had two young children at the time and trying to explain that to them was something I found quite challenging.

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“I still experience strong grief at times, whether it’s seeing dad’s handwriting or listening to some music he liked. Dad’s death has been an important learning experience on my professional as well as my personal journey. Death changes us, but that’s not a bad thing.”

Learning, listening and discussing form the basis of the Death Café meetings.

“I learn something new every session, people bring their own thoughts, opinions ideas and beliefs," she said. "It’s fascinating.”

The sessions, which vary in numbers from a handful to around 15, usually take place in the back of a pub in Abergavenny.

“It’s not a formal occasion, it’s a chance to meet new people, to open up the conversation," she said.

"Sometimes the focus is very practical when someone has a relative with a terminal diagnosis, sometimes it’s more spiritual, sometimes people have a real fear of death or it could be a discussion about the impact of pharmaceutical companies. No two meetings are ever the same."

With the coronavirus pandemic approaching its peak, Ms Grayer added: “Current events have probably forced death into people’s minds, but I think that might be more the fear of death after watching news broadcasts than a healthy acceptance that death is part of life.

"What would be fantastic is if we ended up having more conversations about death and dying with our loved ones before we need to. We’re not inviting it, but it’s good to be prepared for death when it comes.”

If you would like to contact Jane Grayer, you can do so by emailing create.ceremonies@gmail.com.

Abergavenny Death Café are currently holding virtual sessions as a result of the government guidelines. You can join the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/254061578483894.