Talking about death over tea and coffee
In the fall of 2014, I was invited to attend the first Death Café (deathcafe.com) held in the west end of Toronto. I was mid-way through my masters’ research and was intrigued by the idea of people getting together to talk about death and dying—not in a healthcare environment—but in a café. Beyond my research interest, I was curious about who would attend the event and what types of conversations would emerge.
Tables set up to host four were full with enthusiastic people with a broad range of backgrounds, all interested discussing death and dying in a relaxed atmosphere. Although there were guiding questions if needed, discussions were open and fluid. Some participants wanted to be provocative—“If you died tomorrow, what would you miss?—most people wanted to discuss their experiences with death and dying in a reflective way. They wanted to ask questions without getting a raised eyebrow about why they wanted to talk about the topic at all.
This month, the Death Café movement celebrates its 4th anniversary. Since the first Death Café held in September 2011, there have been over 2,300 Death Cafes across North American, Europe and Australasia. Defined as a ‘social franchise,’ Death Café describes their objective ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.
A Death Café is not meant as grief support for participants, but rather provides “an accessible, respectful and confidential space” to have a discussion on death and dying with no agenda yet accompanied by food and drink.
Death Café was one of a growing number of community-driven events that signalled a shift in society’s relationship with death and dying from Death Denying to Discussing (click here to read the full shift). It also challenges the assumption that conversations about death and dying need to happen within the context of a medical or healthcare environment. Of course, end of life conversations sometimes do require the expertise of a healthcare professional, but the growing popularity of events such as Death Café suggests there might be other opportunities to encourage people to have conversations about end of life. If we ask how we might people be encouraged to have conversations about end of life, and to share their wishes for end of life, before a healthcare crisis occurs, perhaps having those conversations in a non-medical, familiar, comfortable environment is part of the key.
Have you been to a Death Café?
If you have, share your thoughts on your experience. If you haven’t but are curious, there are two options (that I know of) in the Toronto area:
If you’d like to read more, I encourage you to Google Death Café to find a growing number of articles in countries across the world. For a local account, go to “At a death café: a life-affirming experience” by Katelyn Verstraten published in the Toronto Star on July 20, 2014.