Death Cafe

Last night my friend and I attended the Death Cafe event in Ottawa.  If someone asks, what are you doing this week and you say, I’m going to a Death Cafe, it can evoke a bit of a shudder and a quick look I interpret as silently asking ‘why in the world’…..

What is a Death Cafe?  Death Cafe is based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist who set up the Cafes Mortels. Jon Underwood read about the first Cafe Mortel to take place in Paris in the Independent newspaper in 2010 and was motivated to offer these himself.  It is described as a ‘social franchise’.  Death Cafes are now held across the world.  They are not for profit events and anyone can host one.  A worthwhile volunteer activity,  I say.  

Our society has a strong tendency to deny death.  We use terms that soften the blow such as ‘passed on’ and ‘lost’.  I attended a seminar where a palliative care expert asked the group who amongst us had “lost a loved one”.  Nearly everyone held up their hands.  Then he asked “have you found them?”  

 The objective of Death Cafe is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their finite lives. Below (I hope) is a video from the first Death Cafe held in Ottawa in June 2013.  

Last night’s audience had a very strong representation of younger people.  Younger is a relative term and in my viewfinder, it means people around the age of 30, give or take 5 years.  The organizers created a welcoming and open atmosphere where, in small groups, you can discuss all manner of things about death and about living our limited lives in a way that recognizes there will be an end.

There are no reports, no flip charts  no group leaders at these events.  There are conversations that are wide ranging and can be touching and intimate.  If you come away from the event with one thing you plan to do, whether it be telling a loved one about your wishes upon your death or acting on something today you have been putting off, then it’s been time well spent.

Death Cafes help us inch ahead in living life fully and dying prepared.

Perhaps I am interested in the topic as I am rounding third plate on the ball field of life.  Now, there you see, I just used foggy language to describe death.  But I do plan to do one thing today to life more fully, one thing that I’ve been putting off for some time.  

Would you attend a Death Cafe event if you had the opportunity?


Death Cafe

There is something a little chilling in the phrase “Death Cafe”.  Much of our society has difficulty in dealing with and speaking about dying and death.  I went to a seminar once where a palliative care worker asked the audience “Who among you has lost a loved one”.  Most hands went up.  He went on to ask “Where did you lose him/her?  Did you find them again?”.  In other words we use phrases that mean death (passed on, passed away or just plain passed) but keep us from having to say the word itself.

A movement known as Death Cafes are popping up in cities across the world.  I had never heard of the events until I read an article in the Ottawa Citizen today. From the article “Their (the Cafes) stated purpose is to “increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” Underwood (who started the movement) held his first one in the basement of his home in September 2011, and since then more than 100 have taken place in homes, cafés and other spaces in Britain, Europe, Canada, the U.S., Australia and elsewhere, with more than 40 hosts and 1,000 guests participating.

 I am interested in what these events have to offer.  They are very small gatherings.  The one in Ottawa has a capacity of 30 people.  You can see though that 1,000 people gathering across many nations is really not that many, is it?

I like the idea of celebrating someone’s life regularly after someone has died (as noted in the article above).  It helps keep memories alive, pass them on to younger generations and to deal with the permanent loss.  

And so I signed up to attend.  My husband said (after he asked if our life insurance was paid up) he’d join me.  

What do you think of the concept of a Death Cafe?  Would you attend if one came to your neighbourhood?