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Dying to talk? Get a Death Café started

An informal group of people in conversation at a cafe

“Talking about death won’t make it happen!” the poster advertising a recent Death Café held at Wondonga cheerfully proclaimed.

If you enjoy tea, cake and conversation, then you may already be the kind of person who’d feel at home at a Death Café, or even get one started. While it may sound a little strange to the uninitiated, for many people, there is a feel-good factor in talking about something that will eventually happen to us all.

You don’t have to be dying, or have had experience with bereavement to take part in a Death Café. With so many people ending their final days in hospital or care, death’s become even more of a voyage into the unknown. When we have little time left, face losing a loved one, or have been bereaved, our unfamiliarity with death can add to the emotional upheaval, uncertainties and feelings of loss. Death Cafés are all about becoming a little more relaxed about our own mortality.

Around 200 Death Cafés have been held across Australia so far. Part of a global social franchise, Death Cafés tend to be pop-up events organised by volunteers interested in getting people in their local community talking about death and dying matters. There are lots of tips online about how to get started, if you’d like to create your own not-for-profit Death Café at home, in a local library, pub or venue of your choice.

These informal gatherings are full of people who often have little more in common than an interest in chatting about the topics that surround death. These may include end-of-life care, funeral options, experiences with loss and a whole host of other subjects we seldom talk about.

Death Café was launched by Britons Jon Underwood and his mum, psychotherapist and counsellor Sue Barsky Reid in 2011. They went on to offer Death Cafés in funky coffee shops, people’s houses, cemeteries and even yurts and established a blueprint to get more people up-and-running their own. Death Cafés have since taken off around the world, with more than 4,500 held to date.

Jon and Sue were inspired by the Swiss Café Mortel movement, which was pioneered by sociologist Bernard Crettaz in 2004. Held in restaurants in cafés and open to anyone to come along, the idea was to get people talking as openly about death as possible.

So what can you expect to happen at a Death Café? It will usually begin with the event’s organiser breaking the ice, by inviting everyone to introduce themselves and share a bit about what drew them to the café.

From there, the aim is from there for the conversation to evolve naturally. If the discussion seems to be tailing off, the organiser may spark new talking points, by putting some open questions to the group.

Death Cafés are relaxed and informal, but there are a few house rules to bear in mind. People are usually asked:

  • To listen when other people are speaking
  • To be respectful of other people’s sensitivities
  • To respect that thoughts expressed are personal and should be treated as confidential
  • To avoid trying to influence someone to come to any conclusion, product or course of action

Talking about death can have a positive impact on people’s lives in many ways:

Thinking about the kind of funeral you’d want and pre-paid funeral plans Helping to relieve anxieties and fear about death Giving people a fresh outlook on life Allowing people to connect and meet new friends

Above all, they are about thought-provoking, reassuring conversation and providing food for thought, as well as tea and cake.

Visit our Help & Resources pages for practical information about what do when someone dies and for details about government services and organisations which offer support to the bereaved.

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