A group of strangers gather to talk about death over tea and cake. Really? Why? A Death Café is a directed group discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. They are not for grief support or counseling. In a 2013 article in USA Today, the headline read: “‘Death cafes’ normalize a difficult, not morbid, topic.” A website – deathcafé.com – was created by Jon Underwood, the host of the first Death Café in England, who based his idea on the writings of Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist who said that talking about death leads to authenticity.
Death Cafés are springing up all across America, as well as abroad. Most of them are organized and run by volunteers or non-profit organizations, such as hospice services. The meetings are held in cafes, at people’s homes, churches, and even in cemeteries.
The article in USA Today described a typical Death Café:
About 40 people met at the conference room at Oakland Cemetery, broke up into clusters of five to eight people, and talked for several hours. At a typical death cafe, facilitators move about the room and monitor conversations, to identify anyone who might need counseling, pull them aside and tell them where to find help. The cafes are not support groups, says chaplain Mark LaRocca-Pitts, a host of the Oakland Cemetery cafe.
Meetings often start with the question “What brought you here?” he says.
The conversation helped Julie Arms. “My partner doesn’t want to talk about dying, especially about my dying, so it gave me a chance to explore ideas with other people,” she says. “I found comfort in that.”
Shortly after my book, A Life Well Lived, A Death Well Met came out, I showed a copy to some visiting family members. After reading just of few pages and entries, everyone started talking about family members and friends who had passed away, their own first recollections of and feelings about encountering death, even their hopes for themselves as they each come to the end of their own lives. It didn’t take much. It seems many people welcome the opportunity to talk about death. They just don’t have the occasion or an opportunity to do so.
If you would like to participate in a Death Café, check with your local hospice service or facility, perhaps with the spiritual advisor, or maybe with a local hospital chaplain. If you’re looking for resources and can’t find any, send me an email or message. I’ll help.