'Have you heard of Death Cafe?' is my go-to question to friends and family, when broaching the topic of deathcare. It's a popular enough phenomenon that many have heard of it. You can more or less divide my world evenly into two camps: those who have and those who have not.
For those who have not, here is a quick summary: Death Cafes are informal gatherings of people, from any walk of life and often unknown to one another, to engage in a conversation about death. Anyone is allowed to offer a Death Cafe as long as the founding tenets are adhered to: the event must be non-commercial, there can be no formal agenda or intentional steering of the discussion toward a particular topic, and, delightfully, the conversation should be accompanied by tea and cake. Since the first Death Cafe in 2011, there have been an estimated 12,000 Death Cafes held in 74 different countries around the world.
Death Cafe is a social franchise, pioneered in 2010 by Jon Underwood, and his mum, Sue Barsky Reid, in the U.K., based on the work of Swiss Sociologist Bernard Crettaz, whose inaugural Cafe Mortel had the goal of “breaking the ‘tyrannical secrecy’ surrounding the topic of death.” The purpose quoted on the Death Cafe website reads: Our objective is 'to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives'.
I’ve attended a few death cafes myself and recently even tried my hand at facilitating one - a deceptively tricky task. Although many come to Death Cafes with the grief and trauma of loss fresh in their minds, there are no bereavement services or counseling on offer. For this reason, conversation can often veer toward the theoretical...or, aspirational.
While folks may be reluctant to open up about personal loss there seems to be no trouble generating strong opinions about our own end-of-life preferences. Many openly share where they want to die, how they want to be buried, and how they wish to be commemorated. Planning one’s death can be like a cross between planning a wedding (envision the music and speeches; the party) and planning a birth (imagine what might feel right: who will be there? What medical help or intervention might you want or need?) Many people come to Death Cafes to make sense of a death they have recently experienced or to give some thought to their own eventual death, or that of loved ones.
We founded Wake with a goal of hosting regular Death Cafes for the community, and have held two since our launch in July. Our third offering will be this Saturday, January 9th, 2021, at 10 am central time, via Zoom. Anyone can register to attend on our website’s homepage at wake.education.