2016 Dying Matters Awareness Week: what is a Death Café?

11 May 2016

Serving up practical information, bereavement advice and coffee – Death Cafés are gaining mainstream media attention and a growing following in the UK.

What is a Death Cafe?

In support of Dying Matters’ annual Awareness Week, we look at what’s on the menu at your local Death Café.

Parties, sports events, first dates; there are almost no social situations where death is an acceptable topic of conversation. When Jon Underwood noticed this in 2011, he decided to initiate a movement, and hold meetings in coffee shops of which the entire agenda was to exclusively mention the unmentionable.

To get people started, Death Cafés tend to have a ‘topics menu’ whereby visitors have a list of questions to discuss with peers rather than attempt to get the ball rolling themselves. For example: “What song would you like played at your funeral?” While the answers to these questions may not be the reason someone attended, they are merely designed to kick off conversations.

The fundamental idea behind a Death Café is to normalise conversations about the inevitable. Underwood told The Independent in 2012: "We just want to create an environment where talking about death is natural and comfortable." An ambitious aim - what's wrong with our current, somewhat prudish, attitude towards death?

According to Hermione Elliot, a nurse who funded a training centre for end-of-life experts, we are now so distanced from death that people who approach it are afraid to speak up about it or talk about what matters to them. “Families don’t encounter it in a natural way and lack confidence,” she said. “A lot of people don’t even know they’re allowed to die at home or they can get funding for adjustable hospital beds or aids that they can use at home to make it easier.” The fact is that our societal aversion to talking about death is costing us money, causing people pain and standing in the way of people getting the funeral they want.

Now, more than 200 pop-up Death Cafés take place per year in the UK alone and the movement is taking hold all across the World. While it may be a few years before your nearest Starbucks becomes a Death Café, it's good to know that there are places you can go where death is not a conversation killer.