Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid held the first Death Café in East London in September 2011. Since then, there have been 1066 events around the world and they continue to grow in popularity.
Underwood organized his Death Cafe as a way ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’. Death is the one thing we all share and yet we have made it an uncomfortable and taboo topic.
One hundred years ago, we were born at home and died at home and we celebrated both events. In the years since then, death has become remote and sanitized. More people die in hospitals and we defer conversations about dying until the very end. This leaves both the dying and their families without the emotional – and even physical – preparation that would make the reality of the end of life easier for everyone.
Death Cafes are a safe place to discuss end of life issues. By design, they do not have an agenda or focus and the attendees decide on the discussion topics. They might be as diverse as what it means to donate your body to science, how to prepare legal documents such as advance directives and wills, advances in green burial options, and how to talk to your children.
Elaine Voci, a Death Café host in Indiana, shared her 10 reasons to talk about death here. It seems her main message is that talking about death removes the fear and helps us focus on life and living authentically. For other views, see this article from Komo News and this one from The Independent where the overall opinion is that the Death Cafes are not sad or morbid but in fact are life affirming.
There is also an emphasis on the importance of discussing your end-of-life wishes with your family and planning the service you desire. Some participants said it was easier discussing these topics with strangers than with their families but hoped the conversations could be taken home and continued there.
No one gets out alive. We all know this. As Gale Rubin, The Doyene of Death, says about her project A Good Goodbye, ‘just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead – and your family will benefit from the conversation. Let’s get the conversation started!”
To find a Death Café close to you, click here.