The Emergence of Death Cafes

Sarah Ritchie Dealing with Loss

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed for a podcast.  The discussion was mostly about my work as a wedding Celebrant.  One of the interviewers ultimately guided the conversation to the issues of dying, death and funerals.  She contended that our culture has been—and remains—ill-equipped to deal with end of life matters.  While I think that is generally true, I do think certain social changes signal a reckoning with end of life issues.  The expansion of the Hospice movement has been a tangible recognition of the need for end-of-life care.  Likewise, the relatively recent emergence of so-called Death Cafes represents an attempt to grapple with dying and death before the very end of one’s life journey.

The death café is a relatively new idea, being traced back to the Swiss social scientist Bernard Crettaz in 2004.  The idea is simple—people gather over food and drink—to discuss issues around dying and death.  The idea was then popularized by Jon Underwood of the United Kingdom.  There are now death cafes in some 60+ countries.  It is believed that America’s first death café was launched in 2012, by a hospice worker in Columbus, Ohio.

A typical death café meeting will include a dozen or so participants, breaking bread together in a coffee shop or other casual location.  A facilitator will organize and, to a certain extent, lead the conversation…allowing people to discuss their understanding of death and hopes and fears surrounding the process.

Due to the pandemic, death cafés (more important than ever) have gone virtual.  One may find information on meeting times from the service.