An introduction to the Death Cafe network

picture of a coffee shop with 2 coffee cups

It might sound morbid, but many people find attending a Death Cafe provides a much-needed opportunity to acknowledge a potentially difficult or upsetting subject that is not often talked about.

Inspired by the desire ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’, the Death Cafe is a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates group-directed discussions about death.

How did the Death Café start?

The first Death Cafe was founded in Hackney in East London by Jon Underwood in September 2011, in response to his belief that western society has relinquished its discussions about death to those in the healthcare and medical community. Jon felt death had become a taboo subject, something people were reluctant to talk about even though they will encounter it throughout their lives and, ultimately, pass away themselves. After all, we spend a lot of time planning for and celebrating the birth of a baby, and comparatively very little time thinking about and preparing for our death or the deaths of those around us.

As one of the most significant events we will ever have to face, Jon wanted to encourage ownership of the subject of death, and so, the first café was set up. The social franchise has proved to be incredibly popular – 5,201 Death Cafes in 51 countries spanning Europe, North America and Australasia have sprung up.

What happens at a Death Cafe meeting?

People get together, enjoy a cup of tea and usually some cake, and talk about death. There is no agenda, the topics are determined by attendees and a facilitator helps guide the conversation with minimal intervention. Held in a variety of spaces, such as people’s homes, cafes and restaurants, community spaces and festivals, a Death Cafe offers an open, respectful and confidential space where people can express their views safely. It is, however, important to note that the Death Cafe is not a bereavement group or grief counselling session.

 Want to start your own Death Cafe?

No formal qualifications are required, although Death Cafe hosts have usually attended a few discussions already and have an enthusiasm for talking about death and dying. The idea is to promote death as a socially acceptable topic to talk about, and possible questions that could be introduced to promote discussion include: Cremation or burial? What song would you like at your funeral? What are your end-of-life wishes?

The Death Cafe website offers guidance for people thinking of starting up a Death Cafe, and states that good organisational skills, patience and the ability to build relationships are all positive attributes to have.

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