I have facilitated over a dozen Death Cafés in the Northwest Florida area since 2017, and as a way of letting the community know about an upcoming Death Café, I often distribute flyers to libraries, coffee shops and local colleges. But when I hand the flyer over and explain that there is an upcoming event in the community called a “Death Café,” I get some interesting responses. The most common response is widening eyes and then looking up at me in bewilderment. Some even step backwards away from me as if I am the Grim Reaper himself!
So what is Death Café? I will try to explain here, but if you really want to understand and have a unique learning experience, I suggest you attend one. They are always free and open to the public.
In many societies, including our own, talking about death is taboo. Often when someone brings up that topic, things go quiet and the subject gets changed quickly. But some people do want to talk about death; they just find it challenging to find others that will participate.
Jon Underwood, the founder of the Death Café, had read about Café Mortels (translation - deadly café) being held in Switzerland and he was fascinated. Jon actually went to Switzerland to meet the founder, Bernard Crettaz, to gather more information about it. This inspired Jon to start the Death Café in the UK. The first Death Café was held in Jon’s home in his London in 2011, and he opened it to the community. A Death Café is a discussion about death; there are no objectives or goals, just a safe space where you can discuss this topic openly. Jon said that his objective was “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”
Death is something we all have to come to terms with; ignoring it will not stop it from coming. We are hearing more in the media about death and dying and an increasing amount of books are being published on the topic. But even with these growing resources, I have been working in Hospice for over six years now, and I often witness how things can unravel upon someone’s death when end of life choices are not discussed beforehand. These discussions are so important. If we don’t have conversations about our fears, our wishes, and even the general topic of dying, the lack of communication and overwhelming emotions can often tear families apart. It seems that more people are beginning to realize the importance of talking about death. In fact, since the first Death Café in 2011, the concept has spread across the globe and there are Death Cafés in over 60 countries now.
Death Cafés are an interesting, safe and even fun way to discuss this complex topic. The cafés are full of stories, introspection and sharing.
You can come alone or with a loved one to bring your stories or your questions. And I do hope all of those reading this article will join me at a Death Café soon.
For more information and to look for upcoming Death Cafés sponsored by VITAS Healthcare, you can contact Lelanya Taber at 850.530.4268 with any questions.
The Death Café is not a grief/ bereavement support group.
Shawn P. attended one of our Death Cafés, he describes the experience:
“I recently attended a Death Café. I’m a nurse by profession and deal with death as part of what I do. I enjoyed this opportunity to express my thoughts and beliefs on death and dying as it relates to me in a personal and professional level; the two do intertwine. It was a great experience to hear what others have to say and also share my thoughts. Too often during life, we avoid the discussion because of fear. Speaking openly about how we would perhaps like our death to be like can be of comfort. I highly recommend going and expressing yourself and perhaps learning something new.”
Karen R. attended two of our Death Cafes; she describes the experience:
"It's nice to find an event in which you can meet and talk about the deeper things in life. The Death Cafe allows people to have deep discussions about things in which we don't often get the chance to talk about. For me, this feeds my soul, and I love to speak about and explore topics of which are inevitable and often considered taboo. The Death Cafe does a great job of facilitating and creating open and productive discussions about death and dying that makes you leave feeling like you had great, deep discussions with close friends.
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