A Death Café is a scheduled non-profit get-together, usually of strangers, for the purpose of talking
about death over food and drink, initially tea and cake. Today however, there are Death and Dying
Dinner Parties or Cocktail Parties and other get togethers to address the impermanence of our lives.
The goal of these nonprofit groups is to educate and help people become more familiar with the end of
life. The idea originated with the Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz, who organized
the first café mortel in 2004. Jon Underwood, a UK web developer, was inspired by Crettaz’s work and
developed the Death Cafe model in 2011. He was instrumental in the spread of the idea. They have
since been held in 76 countries, including the US starting in 2012. I had the pleasure of working with Jon
in 2013 as he worked to expand this concept around the world. Although a bit out of the ordinary, he
was eager to develop a physical café in London and we brainstormed ideas for further expansion and
maturation of the initial Death Café model into other venues. His objective was “to increase awareness
of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives”.
Death Cafés are group directed discussions of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. Their
purpose is to be educational as they are not a support or counselling session. Many people have told
me that they really had no intention of talking at the session, but are there to listen and learn. Their
intent is to “lurk” rather than to participate, which is fine. However, once the discussion begins it is
amazing how many people, with no intention to speak, become involved in the discussions themselves.
It provides a safe space for people to address the taboo issues regarding death that we frequently do
not feel comfortable verbalizing anywhere else.
To learn more about Death Cafés or learn where there is one in your area, check out their website. Here
in Maryland, there is a monthly Death Café put on by Assisting Hands. They explain their café in the
following video. I strongly recommend your checking them out and feel free to sign up and attend no
matter where you live. They have had people engage from all over the country since they are now held
on Zoom instead of face to face. They are becoming more widely attended as death has become a
front-page issue in America and beyond for over a year now. So perhaps, now is the time to give it a try.
We cheat ourselves and others by not addressing death and better understanding “the elephant in the
room”. These Death Cafes also open the opportunity to:
Have ‘The Conversation’
Give ‘The Gift’
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