AN INAUGURAL EVENT... A DEATH CAFE!
The original Death Cafe was based on ideas of Bernard Crettaz, a sociologist in
Switzerland who began hosting the first "cafe mortals" in 2004. He had said that fellowship brings out truth. He held the viewpoint that "the assembled company at one of these soirees, for a moment, and thanks to death, is born into authenticity."
Jon Underwood, a man living in England, had decided to develop a series of projects about death, one of which was to focus on talking about it. After reading about Bernard's work in a newspaper in November 2010, he developed a model for the Death Cafe concept, with the assistance of his mother, Sue Barsky Reid, a psychotherapist.
The first Death Cafe took place in the United Kingdom (Hackney, East London) in September 2011 in Jon's living room, facilitated by his mother. In February 2012 they published a guide for others to start their own cafes. The first person to use it in the United States was Lizzy Miles, a hospice social worker, in Columbus, Ohio. A cafe there was launched in July 2012. Since then, hundreds of local cafes have been established around the world.
Based on the original paradigm for this type of meeting, food is prescribed as part of the experience. Bernard Crettaz said that "nothing marks a community of the living like sharing food and drink." Jon Underwood noted that "Cake normalizes things."
Though the name implies a place, it is primarily an experience - an opportunity for individuals to gather as a group for a relaxed discussion about various aspects of death. There is no agenda or instructional menu. Dialogue evolves spontaneously according to thoughts and reactions. There are no objectives. This is not a support group for grief counseling or a class for funeral pre-planning. It is simply a chance for a generally closeted topic to be brought out into the open for some fresh air.
The concept has become popular in the United States and around the world. As a non-profit initiative, its international presence is perpetually being augmented through increasing numbers of new groups.
One of the new groups is now in Rochester. The novelty of this initiative drew the attention of a health reporter for the local newspaper. An article published a few days before the event prompted substantial interest:
About forty individuals participated within the framework of two group circles. A diversity of backgrounds surfaced during introductions to one another. A number of them related in some way to end-of-life volunteer and occupational roles. Other folks were simply inspired to participate because of interest in others' perspectives and a desire to learn.
A few of the topics at this first meeting included advance care directives, the predominant societal fear of discussing aspects of the "d" word, interest in planning ahead and being prepared for death, home funeral management, green burials, and the difficult challenge of approaching family members to contemplate final arrangements, due to overwhelming resistance and refusal.
Amid the collegial chatter, cake was consumed. A creative funeral director had contributed a plate of cleverly presented toe tag cookies!
Having barely scratched the surface among this assemblage of enthusiastically engaged participants, the next cafe will offer further opportunities to share thoughts and feelings.
Universal Death Cafe Website