Sharing death experience stories

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Katrina Kelly splits her working week between co-ordinating the North Otago Budget Advisory Service and being secretary of the North Otago and Southern Canterbury A&P Associations. She talks to Oamaru Mail reporter Sally Brooker about an initiative from the Budget Advisory Service and Family Works – “Death Cafe”, a free gathering at the Reach Church Hall at 7pm on Wednesday to discuss subjects related to death.

Q Where did the idea for Death Cafe come from?

My South Otago counterpart advertised it. I thought “Oooh, that looks interesting”, so I went to Milton for the first one. It was a group of people who initially said why they had come along and shared stories of their experiences with death.

After the first meeting, they were asked what information they wanted, such as lawyers talking about enduring powers of attorney. If my husband was unable to make decisions for himself, I wouldn’t be able to make them for him as his wife, because I’m not a blood relative. It goes to the next of kin. How many people don’t know about that?

And there are families where the husband does all the bills and accounts, then dies. It’s already stressful enough dealing with that.

Funeral bills are another thing, and alternative types of funerals.

We can bring people in and introduce these subjects.

It’s just a get-together with tea, coffee and cake, facilitated by me. It’s not a new idea – it was established in Switzerland in 2004. And it’s not just for old people – people my age need to make sure we’re planning ahead. Nobody is pushing anything. It’s at the Reach Church Hall because there’s a lot of room and easy access.

Q How do you get your clients for the Budget Advisory Service?

We get self-referrals and referrals from other agencies. We also get them from Work and Income, but they have decreased. We attend meetings for people with addiction and mental health problems and with older persons, so people know we’re there.

We also go into schools. We’re talking to the Waitaki Girls’ High School year 13 pupils and the St Kevin’s College business studies class and we’ve been to Waitaki Boys’ High School. We’ve developed a game called “Life Lessons”. We share stories from our clients, but without names or identifiers. It has scenarios of jobs and a family, looking at KiwiSaver, student loans, credit cards, and hire purchases. It takes a couple of hours. They really listen to the real-life stories – it’s actual, it’s happening. Then we have one-on-ones.

We don’t get any funding to go into schools. We’re funded by Social Welfare through Family Works North Otago.

Q Is it rewarding?

I love delivering “Life Lessons”. I would love to do that full-time. Even if you get one person picking it up, it’s worthwhile. We’ve had a number of successes. I job-share the co-ordinator’s role with Mary Bulatao.