Conversations and Cake: Death Cafes Around the World

I was sent a Los Angeles Times article yesterday because my booklets were cited as an educational tool at a Death Cafe in the city. It reminded me of a time several years ago when a local Death Cafe leader asked to screen my short film New Rules For End of Life Care in a movie theater to kick off a Death Cafe meeting. This was a new group and the leader anticipated the conversation after the screening of the film would probably last only 15 to 20 minutes. But the questions following the film lasted so long the movie theater proprietor said we had to stop so he could go home.  

What that told me was that we are literally starved for information about end of life. We carry a lot of fear with us regarding dying and death. This fear originates in our personal experiences and a lack of knowledge. When a subject as taboo as dying occurs in our personal life and not someone else's, we are unprepared.

Enter Death Cafes! The Death Cafe model was developed by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid, based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz. Death Cafes are a place to talk about the unspeakable; a place for those whose quest is for more knowledge; a place where we can talk freely about our fears, our concerns, and our personal experiences; a place that is safe from judgment. And all of this takes place over cake and tea.

Death Cafes take place across the world and are a place for people to have free-form conversations about death. Here is some information directly from the Death Cafe website

“At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death. Our objective is 'to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives'. A Death Cafe is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counseling session.

Our Death Cafes are always offered:

- On a not for profit basis

- In an accessible, respectful and confidential space

- With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action

- Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!”

I see Death Cafes as the start of a conversation; the start of opening ourselves up to exploring end of life issues; the start of breaking the belief that if I talk about death and dying, I will surely die.

I'm going to "plant a seed." What if church congregations, civic groups, and neighborhood get-togethers had Death Cafe nights or afternoons? As I write this, the sad thought occurred to me that maybe no one would come. BUT isn't it worth a try to give people a safe place to explore the ideas and feelings that encompass a major part of life? We are born, we experience and then we die – all of us. We have conversations about birth and birthing, so why not have conversations about death and dying? If you want to begin a Death Cafe, here is the guide to follow. Something to think about.

Something More... about Conversations and Cake: Death Cafes Around the World

Here is the link to the trailer for the film that we started the Death Cafe with- New Rules for End of Life Care

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8 comments

Deirdre Jenkins

Dear Barbara,
First I want to let you know how invaluable your books and your work has been for me. I am a Death Doula in Wisconsin, and I have a library stocked with your books that are the first thing I reach for when others need good practical guidance.

I am also a Death Cafe facilitator, and lucky to have a very successful Death Cafe. I believe that is because I wholeheartedly embrace the guidelines that Death Cafe asks of me: in order to use the name “Death Cafe” we must agree to follow specific guidelines – some of which you mention above. Death Cafe is a “community directed discussion without agenda”. I invite my guests to bring whatever is on their heart and minds and the conversation is always robust.

While I will always share and giveaway your materials, the Death Cafe is a sacred place and I respect the wishes of those who hold the British equivalent of a copyright on their name. Anything else – is not a Death Cafe. I hope that anyone looking to start one will begin with the Death Cafe Guidelines, and check the box on the deathcafe.com website, so that they can fairly and honestly borrow the name.

Thank you for everything you do. It matters so much. You’re one of my heroes.
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BK Books replied:
Hi Deirdre, thank you for the additional information about Death Cafes. Blessings to you in the good work you are doing. Barbara

SusanMorse

I think this is a wonderful idea. We have a new hospice merging with our hospice and I am going to bring it up to them.
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BK Books replied:
Good luck, Susan. Blessings to you in the work you are doing. Barbara

Jan Hallock

Thank you, Barbara, for sharing this concept. I will look into it and hope to find one nearby – or start one. Your resources are so very helpful!!! Blessings to you as you continue your own grief journey.
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BK Books replied:
Hi Jan, I really like your attitude of “find one or start one”. That’s how we get things done. Blessings to you. Barbara

Crispin

Death Cafes are growing throughout metro Denver. During the pandemic one of the oldest groups met on zoom – just now getting back to in person but it attracted to folks worldwide so zoom options may continue. With my EOL work I find it very helpful to attend a variety. It helps broaden resources listed on the website of a non-profit I support- End of Life Options Colorado. Intrigued with the idea of using your video. Thank you for all the wok you do.

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BK Books replied:
Hi Crispin, thank you for sharing. Sounds like good work is happening. Blessings to you in the work you are doing. Barbara

Denny Vlahos, CDP

I have been working in “Death-Care” since 1991 & think this is a wonderful idea. I plan on bringing it up at church during our next meeting.
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BK Books replied:
Hi Denny, I hope your church is receptive. It’s a great place to have an open, safe conversation. Blessings to you in the work you are doing. Barbara

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