The Death Café is a new trend that estate planning attorneys can employ to help clients to consider their mortality and address the implications of everyone’s finite life spans.
The objective of Death Café is “To increase awareness of death with a view toward helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” People come together in a relaxed, confidential and safe setting to discuss death, drink tea (or a favorite beverage) and eat delicious cake and cookies.
The Death Café concept started in England, where “stiff-upper-lip” Brits have an especially hard time talking about death. Founder Jon Underwood modeled it on the café mortel created by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. Underwood held his first Death Café event September 2011 at his home in London. Since then, more than 200 people have attended Death Café events in the Royal Festival Hall, a yurt, cool cafes and other people’s houses.
Thanatologist (that’s a death educator) Lizzy Miles coordinated the first U.S. Death Café held in Columbus, Ohio July 2012. She has since gone on to coordinate four more, including one specifically for LGBT individuals.
The movement is growing in the U.S. I hosted two Death Café events in Albuquerque on September 30 and November 7. Home funeral guide Merilynne Rush hosted the first Death Café in Ann Arbor, Michigan on November 17.
My first Death Cafe featured a wide ranging discussion of mortality issues such as living life to the fullest, bucket lists, aging in place and end-of-life decision-making. Questions pondered included “Would you want to die in your sleep?” “Does the idea of death make us want to live more fully?” and “Is it right for someone to dictate not having a funeral or memorial service?”
In the program evaluation forms, some of the terms used to describe the event were “thought-provoking” “intriguing” “stimulating” “worthwhile” “comfortable” “informative” “practical” “interesting” “safe” “educational” and “fun.”
Death Cafes are always offered:
- On a not for profit basis, though to be sustainable hosts may try to cover expenses through donations and fundraising
- In an accessible, respectful and confidential space, free of discrimination, where people can express their views safely
- With no intention of leading participants towards any particular conclusion, product or course of action
- With refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!
Underwood actively encourages people to set up their own Death Café events. In February 2012, he produced a guide to running your own Death Café. It’s available at http://deathcafe.com/how/. You can also find articles and more information at http://agoodgoodbye.com/events/abq-death-cafe/ .
Death, if it’s discussed at all, is so often spoken about in furtive, low whispers. We’re all headed down this path eventually. Let’s talk about our concerns, our hopes and fears. The Death Café is a wonderful way to take this topic out of a dark closet.
The Doyenne of Death™ Gail Rubin is author of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die and The Family Plot Blog. A death educator and Certified Celebrant who brings light to a dark subject, she helps get serious conversations started with funny film presentations. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
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