Would you like to talk about death in a friendly and non-judgmental setting? Your local Death Cafe could be just the place.
In this article we take a look at Death Cafes and what they're all about.
What is a Death Cafe?
A Death Cafe is an event where people come together to talk about death.
These people could be friends or strangers. What they have in common is that they want to discuss dying and what it means.
Death Cafes are organised by volunteers all over the world. They’re always run on a not-for-profit basis.
How did the Death Cafe movement start?
The Death Cafe movement was founded by Jon Underwood. He was inspired by the work of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, who had developed a similar concept called café mortel. Jon held the UK’s first Death Cafe event in Hackney, East London in September 2011.
Jon believed it was important to talk about death, even though people often find it uncomfortable. He felt people would rather leave discussions about dying to funeral directors, doctors and religious leaders. In his words, “we have lost control of one of the most significant events we ever have to face”.
That’s why Jon started Death Cafe. He wanted to help people face up to death and feel comfortable discussing it. He believed that accepting death would help them make the most of their lives.
Jon Underwood died in 2017. His mother and sister continue his work promoting death awareness today.
What happens at a Death Cafe?
A Death Cafe doesn’t always happen at a cafe. People have held Death Cafes in all sorts of places, including libraries, cemeteries and even the Royal Festival Hall. The first Death Cafe was held at founder Jon Underwood’s house.
Usually, the meeting lasts 2 hours and about 12 people attend. There are no set subjects or questions. People simply turn up, drink tea, eat cake and talk about death.
The person who organises the event often acts as the facilitator. It's their job to guide the discussion and make sure it stays respectful and feels safe.
The meetings are meant to provide a confidential place for free and open conversation. They’re not meant to offer bereavement counselling or information about death. However, grieving people can go to a Death Cafe if they want to discuss death and dying.
How can I find a Death Cafe near me?
Death Cafes have become very popular. Since the first event in London, people have held over 15,000 Death Cafes in more than 80 countries – including the UK, USA, Australia and Thailand.
The best way to find a local Death Cafe is to check the organisation’s website. It includes a map that lists all previous and upcoming Death Cafe locations. You can also search by entering a town or postcode.
Don’t see anything close to you? Many facilitators now run virtual Death Cafes online using video software like Zoom. These are just like the usual events, except you don’t attend in person.
How to run a Death Cafe
Anyone is allowed to hold a Death Cafe. The events are run as a ‘social franchise’, meaning you can use the Death Cafe name and promote your meeting on the organisation’s website.
However, it’s important that your event meets the Death Cafe guidelines. These cover things like how to set up the event, what refreshments to serve and your responsibilities as a host.
You can read the guidelines here.
More useful guides
- What is a bereavement counsellor?
- What is an end-of-life doula?
- How to speak to children about death
The Funeral Choice website has a free online directory that helps you find and compare local funeral directors. You’ll also find lots of guides to help you arrange a funeral or cope with bereavement. Visit our funeral planning advice centre to get started.