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The rise of the Death Cafe

Posted by AK Lander | On March 23, 2016 14:50



Cups of tea and biscuits can be a comfort during any sad occasion, but since the rise of Death Cafés around the country, people are taking the soothing powers of tea and cake a step further. By seeking advice and warmth from strangers and professionals, as well as enjoying the odd cake or two, mourning can be approached in a different light. 

Since 2011, Death Cafés have been the alternative respite for those afflicted with the pain of losing a friend or relative. The mastermind behind the idea was Jon Underwood. Recently speaking to The Independent, Jon says that the aim of the movement is to “increase awareness of death with a view of helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.

“We just want to create an environment where talking about death is natural and comfortable.” 

The concept of Underwood’s Death Café was based on the Swiss model (café mortel) invented by sociologist Bernard Crettaz who grew up in the village of Vissoie, home to beautifully decorated memorial headstones. The guidelines which Crettaz kept to when hosting the meetings were simple; the gathering had to take place in a restaurant, anyone could come, and he would gently marshal the conversation. His first meeting was in 2004 in the Swiss town of Neuchatel, and was followed by another in Paris in 2010, which was positively reported in national publications. Jon had stumbled across one of those articles, where the inspiration for hosting his own cafés blossomed. 

Jon hosted his own meeting in his house in Hackney, London. After the success of the first, he wanted to make sure people knew where to go to experience the alternative way to approach the topic of grief, and that’s when deathcafe.com was created. Posting a guide to holding a Death Café, the concept has slowly caught on with others around the world, from Vancouver to Argentina and Stockholm to Singapore. As of today, 2861 Death Cafés have been hosted in 34 countries.


What can you expect from a Death Café?

 For first-time individuals and without description, ‘Death Café’, may attract negative connotation. The truth is, it’s the complete opposite.

 There are many advantages to visiting a Death Café, but a sense of trust is one thing you will certainly feel. Although the people around may be or have been in the same situation, as a first-time individual, every person there will be understanding of any situation, keeping their interest in as little or as much as you decide to talk to them about. Hosts are there to enlighten your perspective of death, enabling you to invest positive time in the grieving period. 

A Death Café meeting is always offered in an accessible, respectful and confidential space, where you can relax and feel comfortable knowing you’re in caring, understanding hands. You won’t feel pressured into any outside opinion, product or course of action as they work on a not-for-profit basis. But of course, there is always delicious food and drink! 

A feeling of community is what really drives a Death Café to full capacity, as apart from confiding in family and friends, gaining an outsider’s point of view on grief can really help those who are mourning to understand and appreciate your loved one’s life. Bringing everyone together for all the same and right reasons will make any individual feel welcome and wanted, often feelings that are of great value at that particular time. 

Deathcafe.com have created a guide to holding your own Death Café, outlining how, when and where a meeting can take place. If you are looking to approach a host in your area, taking a minute or so to see what you can expect from a Death Café is a great way to start on your road to dealing with grief.   

Image Credit: iquasso (pixabay.com)