This week’s spotlight: all things death.
Death Cafe is not the title of a new heavy metal LP, nor is it the name of a restaurant where skeletons are served. (Well, maybe it is, but that’s not what we’re writing about today!)
Death Cafe is an idea, a movement, and a series of meetings where, according to its hub website, “people—often strangers—drink tea, eat cake, and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.”
Jon Underwood of London got the idea when he read a 2010 newspaper article that mentioned Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz, who started hosting the first “cafe mortals” in Switzerland in 2004.
He’d already been at work on a series of projects about death, and decided to try organizing his own “death cafe” with the help of his mother, Sue Barsky Reid. It was a great success. The mother-and-son team began hosting more events and in 2012 published the guide “Holding Your Own Death Cafe“, which quickly spread around the world.
To date, over 3,000 participants have discussed end-of-life issues at 396 Death Cafes in Europe, North America, and Australasia.
How it works
The meetings are run on a purely voluntary basis, with each led by different facilitators and attended by groups of different sizes. Most meetings begin with a facilitator sharing what led them to the group and asking others to share their reasons.
The group might then split into smaller chunks to answer more conversation-starting questions like: What do you want your funeral to be like? Is there such a thing as living too long? What do you most want to accomplish before you die?
And there are a few ground rules that hold the concept together:
- No one should try to lead participants to any particular conclusion, product, or course of action.
- Death Cafe should not be treated as a bereavement support or grief counseling setting.
- The meetings should happen “alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food—and cake!”
As for what the experience is like, a few Death Cafe leaders and participants sound off:
- “There was a sense of something profound being shared. A woman living with a life limiting illness who was quite ill but looked very well said, quite firmly and calmly, in response to one comment: ‘I am not JUST going to die! I am going to DIE!’ For her, dying was not a far off theory. It was much closer to home.” —Josefine, London, UK
- “Our last Death Cafe was wonderful. We even had a couple who didn’t plan to attend but joined us anyway. The man remained standing the whole time because he ‘wasn’t really interested in the topic’ but he ended up talking the most!” —Merilynne, Ann Arbor, MI
- “We often end up with a group interested in discussing more practical things like funeral planning or completing advance directive forms, while other table participants might be dialoguing about the spiritual aspects of death. Every month brings new people and new topics of conversation. There are small cards scattered about on tables and face down just in case the attendees need a question to boost their conversation. Did I mention we had not one, but two cakes?” —Jo, Austin, TX
Is this piquing your interest? Look for an upcoming cafe taking place near you.
Also, it doesn’t take much to try hosting your own event. DeathCafe.com offers information, instructions, and support for new facilitators, and hosts a a “Death Conversation” section where participants can share experiences and info.
Sue and Jon claim “organising a Death Cafe is enjoyable, easy and life-enhancing.” Who knew death could have such an upside?
Have you hosted or attended a Death Cafe? Did the experience help you deal with your fears?