The New York Times, USA Today, NPR, MSN.com, and many other news outlets have recently done stories about The Death Café movement. This worldwide phenomenon brings conversations about mortality out of the closet.
Death Cafés bring strangers together in a public setting to have comfort foods like tea and cake and talk about death. The stated objective for the Death Café movement is “To increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”
Founder Jon Underwood modeled the Death Café concept based on the work of sociologist Bernard Crettaz, who started running Café Mortel get-togethers in 2004 in Switzerland and France. Underwood read an article in 2010 and decided to start holding similar events as part of a range of projects he was doing about death.
The Death Café is a social franchise. People who use the Death Café name abide by certain principles. Anyone can download a guide on how to hold a Death Café from the organization’s website, www.DeathCafe.com.
A Death Café can be offered by anyone following these stipulations:
- Run on a not-for-profit basis, though to be sustainable, one can cover expenses through donations and fundraising
- Held in an accessible, respectful and confidential space, free of discrimination, where people can express their views safely
- Facilitate with no intention of leading participants towards any particular conclusion, product or course of action
- Serve refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!
The Death Café is NOT designed for bereavement support or grief counseling. People who have experienced a very recent and/or traumatic loss or death are encouraged to seek professional support.
Serving tea and cake is important. Bernard Crettaz linked talking about death with eating and drinking. By consciously nurturing our bodies, it counteracts that fear people have about discussing death and allows them to relax and talk. Caterers notice that people tend to eat more at funerals than they do at weddings!
The very first Death Café was held in the basement of Underwood’s home in London in September 2011. Hospice worker Lizzy Miles held the first Death Café in the U.S. in Columbus, Ohio in July 2012. As The Doyenne of Death, I held the second U.S. event in Albuquerque, New Mexico in September 2012.
Since then, the movement has mushroomed. As of July 2013, at least 180 Death Café events have been held in the United States and around the world. Other participating countries include Wales, Scotland, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Taiwan and Australia.
The settings for Death Café events vary widely. While many are held in cafés or tearooms, they’ve also been held in churches, funeral homes, cemeteries, private homes, community rooms in various buildings and other settings.
The conversation runs the gamut – medical concerns, advanced directives, “pulling the plug,” suicide, physician-assisted suicide, financial concerns, wills, funerals, what happens after we die, and many other aspects of living and dying.
Participants are invariably enthusiastic about the experience. They’ll describe it as “thought-provoking,” “intriguing,” “stimulating,” “worthwhile,” “comfortable,” “informative,” “practical,” “interesting,” “safe,” “educational” and “fun.”
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®, has hosted four Death Café events and held the first U.S. event west of the Mississippi. She is the host of the A Good Goodbye TV series and Internet radio show on the RockStar Radio Network. She is a Certified Funeral Celebrant and a public speaker who uses funny films to help start preneed funeral planning conversations. Rubin is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling and the International
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