Happy New Year and welcome to our third Survival Research Communication.  Recognizing that many inboxes are overflowing with good stuff intended to be read, you will hear from us only a few times each year.  We hope you enjoy the contents prepared for this January 2021 issue: 
  • Death Cafés:  Talking about Death
  • Netflix Surviving Death Docuseries
  • Life After Death Research in The Borders of Normal
  • Directory of Spiritualist Organizations in Canada - ongoing update & download link

Death Cafés

by Lynn Jarvis, SRIC Library Administrator

In many ways, our Western society attempts to deny and hide death.


To borrow a quote used by the American author Michael Pollan in one of his books: “We don’t die well.”  Consequently, in recent years, we have seen the emergence of a movement to take dying back – from the medical system, from the funeral industry – and to seek to answer the question: what is a good death?

In 2011, as part of this movement, the first Death Café was held in the UK, hosted by founder Jon Underwood.  Modelled on the “café mortels” developed by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, a Death Café is a safe space where a small number of people can get together to drink tea, eat cake, and begin to talk about that most taboo of subjects – death.  Participants at first met face to face, usually in a café setting, but now meet virtually.

The conversations are not primarily about what happens after death, although the topic does comes up.  The stated objective on the Death Café website is "to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives."  Promoting any particular viewpoint is not welcome.  Though some may find the subject morbid, many participants maintain that the Cafés are positive, even enjoyable!  One attendee is quoted as saying:  “I always come away feeling more alive.”
A scroll through both past and upcoming Death Cafés on the website shows a large range of approaches to the subject: some are around cancer and/or end-of-life care, compassionate funerals, the need for rituals, even legacies left behind on social media!  Others have a more specific focus, for example, legal issues, the particular needs of the LGBTQ community, or the death of animal companions.  Interested people will find lots of resources on the website, including short write-ups about individual Death Cafés and why they were started, blog posts, how to find a Death Café nearby, and guidelines for holding your own Death Café.  To date, 11,905 Death Cafés have been held in 74 countries since September 2011.

How fortunate that such a wonderful resource was in place when a global pandemic struck, with so many of us being forced to look at death far more closely than we would have otherwise.  While some people talk of losing loved ones and not being able to provide a loving end-of-life experience for them, others express how they now find themselves thinking constantly about their own deaths, prompting them to ask themselves how they want to die and how they want to live – considering perhaps for the first time the definition of a good life and a good death.

For an interesting analysis of the Death Café movement from a sociological perspective, check out The Death Café Movement: Exploring the Horizons of Mortality by Jack Fong (Springer, 2017).

Surviving Death, based upon the book by Leslie Kean

A recent email from the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) announced a new Netflix docuseries based upon Surviving Death:  A Journalist Investigates Evidence for An Afterlife (New York:  Crown Archetype, 2017) by New York Times bestselling author Leslie Kean.

What happens after we die? Launched on 6 January, the series explores personal stories and research on near-death experiences, reincarnation and paranormal phenomena based upon interviews with scientists, mediums, paranormal experts and child psychiatrists.

Check out the free Season 1 Trailer.  To watch the series, a paid Netflix account is required.

Life after Death Research in The Borders of Normal

We asked Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Manuel Matas to highlight life after death research in his The Borders of Normal: A Clinical Psychiatrist De-Stigmatizes Paranormal Phenomena (Friesen Press, 2017).


by Manuel Matas, MD, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Near-death experiences
With the widespread use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), tens of thousands of individuals who were pronounced clinically dead have been resuscitated. Many of them described leaving their bodies, seeing a bright light, entering a tunnel, being reunited with deceased loved ones, going to heaven, seeing angels, experiencing a feeling of unconditional love, then returning to their bodies. This near-death experience (NDE), described by Dr. Raymond Moody in his international bestseller Life After Life (1975), has become a cultural trope. Moody found 20-40% of individuals who were resuscitated reported NDEs. Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel debunked the assertion that NDEs are caused by cerebral anoxia. Other studies found NDEs are not due to medication or confusion.    

Visions of deceased loved ones
Welsh physician W. Dewi Rees published an article in the British Medical Journal in 1971 on grief hallucinations. He reported that close to 50% of widows and widowers reported post-death contact with their deceased loved ones. He included visual, auditory, or tactile experiences, as well as a sense of the presence of the deceased. He did not include dreams. A similar study was done by in the 1980s by Andrew Greeley, who found that many widows who reported being contacted by their late husbands did not previously believe in an afterlife and were not particularly religious.

Deathbed visions
William Barrett, a physics professor in Dublin, did a systematic study of deathbed visions in the 1920s, after his wife, an obstetrician, told him about her dying patient who said that her late father and beloved sister came to accompany her to the other side. This type of deathbed vision is common in many cultures, as confirmed by Osis and Haraldsson (1977) whose cross-cultural study compared 50,000 terminally ill patients in India and the U.S. In one case a dying woman’s deathbed apparition was seen by three relatives. Shared visions were also reported by medical personnel at the bedside. 50-60% of dying patients who were conscious at the time of death reported visions of an afterlife. Carla Wills-Brandon (2012) collected nearly 2,000 cases of deathbed visions. She concluded they were not due to cerebral anoxia, confusion, or medication.

  • Barrett, Sir William. Deathbed Visions: How The Dead Talk To The Dying. White Crow Books (July 19, 2011).
  • Greeley, Andrew. “The ‘impossible’: it’s happening.” Noetic Sciences Review 1 (1987): 7-9.
  • Greyson, Bruce. “Near-death experiences and spirituality.” Zygon 41, (June 2006), 393-414.
  • Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Life after Death. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 1991.
  • Moody, Raymond. Life after Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon – Survival of Bodily Death. St. Simons, GA: Mockingbird Books, 1975.
  • Noyes, Russell. “Attitude change following near-death experiences.” Psychiatry 43 (1980): 234-42.
  • Osis, K. and E. Haraldsson. At the Hour of Death. New York: Avon, 1977.
  • Pearson, Patricia. Opening Heaven’s Door: What the Dying May Be Trying to Tell Us about Where They’re Going. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2014.
  • Van Lommel P. et al. “Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands.” Lancet 358 (2001); 2039-45.
  • Wills-Brandon, Carla. Heavenly Hugs: Comfort, Support, and Hope From the Afterlife. Pompton Plains, NJ: Career Press, 2013.
Manuel Matas, MD, FRCPC
Dr. Manuel Matas is a clinical psychiatrist with forty years of experience working in the mental health field. He obtained his Medical Degree from the University of Manitoba and his Diploma in Psychiatry from McGill University. He has worked mostly in university teaching hospitals, and more recently in private practice. He has served on the Board and the Scientific Council of the Canadian Psychiatric Association. His accomplishments include many published articles in peer-reviewed psychiatric journals and presentations at national psychiatric conferences.

Throughout his life he has had a number of experiences which could be classified as “anomalous” or “paranormal”; these include near-death and out-of-body experiences, precognitive dreams, and encounters with message-bearing apparitions. These experiences led to his interest in metapsychiatry, which represents the confluence of psychiatry with metaphysics, spirituality, and parapsychology.                                                           

In The Borders of Normal: A Clinical Psychiatrist De-Stigmatizes Paranormal Phenomena, he helps readers distinguish between psychic and psychotic phenomena. It is his hope that by sharing his knowledge and experience in both psychiatry and the world of the unknown, he will de-stigmatize paranormal and spiritual experiences and will give others permission to share their own experiences.

The Borders of Normal is available through many book retailers.  eBooks are available from Kindle, Google Books, Nook, Kobo, iTunes Bookstore, and FriesenPress.

Directory Updates

We have made further updates to our online Directory of Spiritualist Organizations in Canada over the past four months.

The short form copy of our directory has also been updated to reflect changes received to December 2020. We use a stable link for the Directory so you can save it as a bookmark, from which to download the latest copy at any time. Click here to download.

Please send corrections, additions, and updates to:

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Wishing everyone good health and happiness in 2021!

From the SRIC admin team

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