It's not a support group. It's not grief counseling. It is, however, a safe place to talk about death and dying. Oh, and there's tea and cookies (or cake!).
Founded in 2011 by Jon Underwood, the first Death Cafe took place in England. Since then, nearly 100 worldwide Death Cafes have fostered discussion of death and dying in a safe place to "increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives."
I learned about Death Cafes as Austin, TX, is now stepping into the world of tea, pastries, and thoughts on dying. The stark contrast of death alongside tea and cookies is odd. Or is it? Few things are as routine as "tea and cookies" than death. After all, won't we all die? Don't the vast majority of us know someone who has died? Haven't we each thought—even momentarily—about our own deaths or, subsequently and conversely, making the most of the remainder of our lives? Then why don't we publicly talk about this universal topic more? Why do we keep our end-of-life wishes undisclosed to even those most dear to us or avoid writing them down so there is no guessing how we want to live and die? Why do we wait until the fifth intensive care unit admission to broach the subject? Why is it whispered in secret? Why isn't death as flavorfully ordinary as tea and cookies—shared in varieties among company?
Culture holds the key—a culture we've shaped as a society, as a healthcare system, as professionals, as friends. Changing culture—even for one person—is a formidable challenge. Yet, it can and does occur every day. Can a group of people's, or even one person's, culture change in a cafe setting? I've had many life-altering conversations over beverages and finger food myself, so anything is possible. Death Cafes are a unique solution to share an often unshared discussion in a safe, nonjudgemental environment.
Is there a Death Cafe gathering in your city? If so, perhaps you should visit it and chat, or encourage others to attend. I'm personally excited for my area to have this opportunity and thankful to the community members who've given their time and passion to change culture—person by person, discussion by discussion. If there's not a Death Cafe in your area, maybe there should be; maybe you should start one.