What Really Happens at a Death Cafe?

End-of-life care educator and grief worker

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Death isn’t often a conversation starter or the icebreaker at a party, but at a Death Cafe, it’s center stage.

This unique gathering is becoming more and more popular by the day. Humans are hungry for a place to express their hopes, fears, and curiosity for death. We all have it in common and there’s no escaping it.

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As it turns out, talking about death doesn’t speed up the process. It’s quite normal and human to contemplate our death. What a relief, right?

Death is still considered somewhat taboo, but Death Cafes are busting this myth. Let's explore what these Death Cafes are all about.

What’s a Death Cafe?

In 2010, John Underwood developed a project to increase conversation around death. Underwood studied underneath Bernard Crettaz, founder of Café Mortel. Creattaz set the tone for no agenda, with a simple request of no judgment, no topic, and no religion.

They both cared about the matter of death and wanted to encourage others to lean into the topic. After attending a dinner at Crettaz's house, Underwood created the Death Cafe movement.

Death has been apart of human life since the beginning, and it is often labeled as dark and somber. Underwood and Crettaz saw death from a different perspective. They wanted to create a space for people to come together to contemplate their death. This all took place before the death positive movement and it was a bit radical at the time.

It’s a tremendous disservice to one another to pretend that death isn’t going to happen to us. A lot of people wait until death shows up at their doorstep or until the death of a loved one to start the conversation. Death Cafes introduced an alternative, a new forum to approach the topic. 

Since the birth of the Death Cafe movement, there have been over 9,298 cafes in 65 different countries. Cafes don’t always have to take place at a formal cafe, some people host them at their homes or community centers. The only thing required to host a death cafe is a space, a suggested guide, and a facilitator. The sweets and coffee are a bonus.

What Goes on at a Death Cafe?

A Death Cafe is a place where strangers gather around a table of baked goods and a fresh batch of coffee. The setting is informal and there’s no objective or agenda. After a short meet and greet, a facilitator guides a group in conversation around death. The conversation becomes an organic exploration.  As reluctant as some attendees might feel, we learn that we can trust humans with the topic of death.

For one or two hours, there's no judgment or shame around the contemplation and sharing about death. The conversation might include death pre-planning or the fear of death. Wherever the conversation leads, we learn that we’re not alone in our concerns and thoughts about death.

Death Cafes are open to all persons regardless of gender, sex, and belief system. Some Death Cafes are for specific communities and others are open to everyone. Death encapsulates many facets and it’s important to welcome them all.

The groups range from a minimum of three to a maximum of twenty. This helps keep the groups intimate but also dynamic. Groups usually meet on a monthly or bi-monthly. Death Cafe doesn't promote speakers or themed topics, while other unaffiliated groups do.

As it is for life, death also has a beginning, middle, and end, the format of the Death Cafe runs by this same principle.

Discussion Questions to Ask at a Death Cafe

There is no question too silly or serious when it comes to death. It may feel a little strange in the beginning and that’s normal. It’s important to remember that you can’t get the topic of death wrong. 

Questions and prompts deepen exploration and increase awareness. Here are some questions you might find yourself asking at a Death Cafe:

  • What if I am afraid to die?
  • What happens at the time of death?
  • What is a good death verse a bad death?
  • What logistical pre-planning can I do before my death?
  • Do I want to be cremated or buried?
  • How do I talk to my family and friends about death?
  • Is there a good death?
  • Have I been living an intentional life?
  • What type of celebration or service do I want when I die?
  • How do I feel about the death of my loved ones?
  • What is an advanced directive?
  • Do I want to be on artificial life support?
  • What legacy do I want to leave behind?
  • What do we learn from death?
  • What songs do I want to be played at my funeral?
  • What would I like to do before I die?
  • How do my family and friends view death?
  • How often should I think about death?
  • Is it okay to fear the unknown?

How to Find a Death Cafe Near You

Nearby Death Cafes can found on Deathcafe.com and Meetup.com. Both sites feature upcoming Death Cafes ranging from small towns to big cities. If you are unable to find a Death Cafe in your area, you might consider starting your own. 

Chances are you are not the only one in your city or town eager to talk about death. Click here for a helpful guide to learn more about hosting a Death Cafe. 

Keep in mind that each Death Cafe has a different style and flavor. If you attend a Death Cafe that doesn't resonate with you, check out another group or host a death dinner at your home. 

Death Over Dinner is a movement founded by Michael Hebb. It’s a gathering of close friends and family who come together to talk about death. You sip wine and break bread together while the topic of death leads the way. Death Over Dinner is more formal and they provide a step-by-step guide to help you plan your gathering. 

The website helps tailor a Death Dinner based on who’s attending and your intention. The site walks you through a questionnaire to help you plan your dinner. Once you complete that, it’ll email you a setup guide, conversation prompts, and hosting tips. 

It’s best to keep these dinners intimate to make sure that everyone gets the opportunity to share! Have fun with this gathering and set an optimistic tone for friends to come and share. It will be a dinner they’ll never forget.

Facing Death with Strangers and New Friends

Talking about death with strangers isn’t as intimidating as it sounds and we’re all capable of doing it. When we take the time to discuss a complicated topic, we can learn a lot. Taking time to reflect on death is something we can all do. Death Cafes and Death Dinners can provide an invaluable educational experience. When we spend time talking about death, we find that it helps remove the fear around it.

It’s impossible to talk about death without giving thought to how we live life. The two come hand in hand and by inviting death in for a cup of tea, we’re free to live a more intentional life.

Accepting our mortality might seem sad, but it also reminds us of the sweetness of life. Contemplating mortality reminds us that life is short and we should make the most of our time here. When we think and talk about death, we’re enriching our lives.

After we come together as a community to talk about death, we’re never the same after. It doesn’t make us immune to death or from the sorrow it can bring, but it does remind us that we aren't alone.

If you’re looking to explore the subject of death, a Death Cafe or Death Dinner can be the right place. Bring a friend or family member and an open mind and heart.


Sources 

  1. Deathcafe.com 
  2. Elmhirst, Sophie Prospect Magazine. January 22, 2015, https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/take-me-to-the-death-cafe
  3. Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death, https://deathoverdinner.org/
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