During an early morning meeting, a friend leaned over to me and whispered, “I recently went to something called a Death Cafe.” She continued, “You should check it out, you like to talk about all that death stuff!” She was right. Today I am an End-of-Life Doula but at that time I was searching for a like-minded community, people who also liked, actually needed to, talk about death stuff.
I drove two hours to attend my first Death Cafe. Talking about death in a room full of strangers had a profound effect on me and sparked the desire to attend more but closer to home. After researching the process and intention of Death Cafe and experiencing a few more, I initiated the Death Cafe Windsor Essex County (WEC). The first two were held in early 2018. Since that time, Death Cafe WEC has provided opportunities for people to gather together to share their questions, their grief, the confusion and sometimes their laughter.
Jon Underwood founded the Death Cafe movement in 2011. He was a philosopher who was curious about death and his goal was simply to invite participants to talk about death. There was no set goal, no fee and no agenda. He served tea and cake while providing an opportunity to talk about death and how it shows up in our lives. People now attend Death Cafes across the world, in homes and libraries, restaurants and church halls, hospices and funeral homes. Most recently, we have been attending Death Café on Zoom.
Participants arrive with ideas, thoughts, feelings and questions on the wide, complex and messy topic of death. Some people arrive like I did at my first Death Cafe, excited and inspired to speak to others with a shared interest. It’s also normal for a participant to worry that they might cry or find it scary. Some come with the intention of sharing personal experiences, and others plan to listen. Others hope to ask questions and gather information. People come alone or with a friend.
People come from all kinds of backgrounds with fresh grief or old wounds. Others are preparing for what they know is inevitable for everyone. All are encouraged to listen with an open mind and gentle heart. I’ve observed that many participants become completely comfortable talking with people they had not known an hour before.
Readers contemplating attending their first Death Cafe may wonder what to expect. You can expect that a host and facilitator will welcome you to the event and set out the guidelines for the time spent together. The facilitator is likely to remind the group that this is not a grief group or counselling session and that participants are not there to advise each other. Nor is it the place to advertise services.
Participants are asked to keep an open mind, respect other’s ideas and help to create a safe space in which people can be vulnerable. Emotions are always welcome and there will be tears, sometimes anger or frustration and more often than you might expect, there will be laughter.
Thought provoking discussions evolve organically and are determined by those who attend. Conversations may include funeral practices and discussion of other rituals, ceremonies and alternative burials. Participants may have experienced the loss of loved ones, the loss of a pet or being left by suicide. Others are interested in advanced care planning, Hospice, or dying at home. Sometimes people share the titles of helpful books or social media resources. Most recently we have talked about how Covid-19 restrictions are impacting death, dying and mourning.
If, like me, you like to talk about death stuff or wish you could or are just curious about this subject that is often treated as taboo, then a Death Cafe might be the perfect place for you.
Please join us on Sunday, Nov. 22 for a Virtual Death Café. Register for this free event.