Death Cafes provide the opportunity for people to come together, have a little coffee or tea, some cake or cookies, and talk about what’s on their hearts or minds about mortality issues. However, during these days of social distancing orders due to COVID-19, it is difficult to hold a traditional in-person Death Cafe.
Like so many other previously in-person events, Death Cafe meetings have gone virtual. Hosts are using online video chat apps like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and other platforms. It takes a little adjustment, and you have to provide your own refreshments, but it works.
The objective of the Death Cafe is “To increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” It’s all about an interesting, unstructured conversation – open and free-flowing with no specific agenda.
The Death Cafe movement was started in London by Jon Underwood, who held his first Death Cafe in September 2011. He was inspired by the work of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, who held Café Mortel events in France and Switzerland. As of April 2020, more than 10,678 Death Cafes have been held in 70 countries.
As one of the first people to hold a Death Cafe in the United States, I’ve facilitated about 100 events since 2012. And now I’m one of the first to host an event online. Our first online foray had between 13-18 participants sharing their thoughts about these unprecedented times. Most discussions last from 90 minutes to two hours.
One of the benefits of online discussions – geographic distance disappears. While most of our participants were in Albuquerque, we also had people join in from Santa Fe, Arizona, Colorado, New York and Ohio.
How do you facilitate a conversation online about mortality issues? These tips can help:
- Provide a brief overview of the Death Cafe movement. The full story is available online at https://deathcafe.com/what/.
- As the host, ask everyone to introduce themselves and why they chose to attend the discussion today.
- Pose the question, “Does anyone have a burning issue they’d like to discuss right off the bat?”
- The host has the option to mute everyone else who isn’t speaking, or you can ask those not speaking to mute themselves.
- To start speaking, people can raise their actual hands that you can see on video or use the “Raise Hand” feature in Zoom.
- Feel free to bring up your own topics or questions to discuss.
- Depending on the size of the group in the discussion, you can keep everyone in one conversation, or move people into separate online “breakout rooms” for more intimate conversations.
- Toward the end, ask, “Does anyone have questions or comments they have not yet had the chance to express?”
- Sign off with the “Live Long and Prosper” hand sign from Star Trek – it’s a great salutation in this age of coronavirus.
If you have a Zoom account, it is better to create a meeting ID specifically for the event, rather than posting your Personal Meeting ID in public. This makes any meeting you might hold in the future with that Meeting ID open to online meeting crashers. And if you are new to the technology, you might want to have a practice session prior to the actual event.
While these tips are specific to hosting an online Death Cafe, they are good guidelines for any online video meetings you might host. Certainly, there are many opportunities to do so in these “new normal” times.
Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist and The Doyenne of Death®, is a pioneering death educator. One of the first Death Cafe hosts in the U.S., she uses humor, funny film clips, and outside-the-box activities to teach about end-of-life topics. She authored three books on end-of-life issues and coordinates the Before I Die New Mexico Festival. She’s also a Certified Funeral Celebrant and was recognized by Albuquerque Business First with their 2019 Women of Influence Award. Download a free 50-point Executor’s Checklist from her website, www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
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