What is a Death Café?

Woman attending a death cafe to talk about death

Talking about death isn’t easy. In the modern Western world, many people are uncomfortable discussing death, dying or grief – but the death café movement wants to change that.

A Death Café is an informal, welcoming space where you can meet strangers and talk about life’s big questions over coffee and cake. Usually held in cafés, restaurants or bars, Death Cafés are open to people of all ages who want to explore mortality and the issues surrounding it.

Attending your first Death Café

If you’re thinking of attending a Death Café for the first time, the prospect of talking to strangers about dying might seem daunting. Rest assured, though, that the people who host Death Cafés are there to make everyone feel at ease and keep conversation flowing.

Here are just a few guidelines if you’re unsure of how to act at a Death Café:

  • Listen when others are speaking. Conversation is usually casual at a Death Café, and not specifically structured to give everyone a turn to speak. That means everyone has to be aware of when someone is talking and give them chance to express themselves.
  • Be respectful. Death Café attendees come from all walks of life, from all religions and cultures. You might find people expressing views completely different from your own – that’s half the joy of a Death Café. Just remember to respect their beliefs and listen to their ideas, whether or not you personally agree with them.
  • Be confidential. People often share their stories of loss at Death Cafés, sometimes with details about their personal lives. Always treat a Death Café as a confidential space and don’t repeat any details they share with you.

The Death Café movement

The Death Café model was developed by Jon Underwood and his mother, Sue Barsky Reid, in London, U.K. They based the idea on the Swiss Café Mortel movement by Bernard Crettaz.

The idea is to host an informal gathering where people can get together to chat about death and dying. By offering this unique kind of event, Jon and Sue hoped to break down the taboos that prevent people from people from talking about death.

The very first Death Café was held in Jon’s house in 2011. To date, Death Café has held nearly 5,000 events in 51 countries. The Death Café organization is not-for-profit, thanks to the hard work of enthusiastic volunteers across the globe.

Jon Underwood died earlier this year from acute promyelocytic leukemia, aged 44, but his friends and family have promised to continue his good work.

If you’ve been inspired to attend a Death Café, you can find an event near you, learn more about the movement, or find out how to set up your own event on the official Death Café website.