Death Cafe Press Clippings
Posted by Jools Barsky on Jan. 25, 2020, 5:18 a.m.
Attending one of the Capital Region’s only roaming cafes comes with a few conditions: keep an open mind and feel free to discuss death. At least that’s the case with Death Cafe Albany. “My friends say ‘You need to change the name’ I say ‘That’s the point,’ ” said Kate Murray, one of the Death Cafe Albany hosts.
Posted by Jools Barsky on Jan. 12, 2020, 12:11 p.m.
Sue in conversation with Jools Barsky, co-founder of the Death Cafe movement about how Death Cafes help us to live consciously for a better world...
A POINT OF VIEW, BBC RADIO 4
WRITER: SARAH DUNANT
PRODUCER: AEDELE ARMSTRONG
An evening at the Death Café
A couple of months ago, I spent an evening at a “ death café’. If that phrase
means nothing to you, then I should say immediately that it has nothing to do with
assisted suicide, shades of grey sexuality or even some misguided dress fetish,
harking back to the goth era.
On the contrary, it was an exceedingly respectable encounter. Held in a café
in a small town in Gloucestershire, a group of maybe fifteen or sixteen people who
had never met each other gathered in response to posters and local advertising. The
age range was wide: from a young woman in her twenties up through both men and
women in their 60’s or older, and for the next couple of hours in groups and
together over tea, coffee and cakes we talked about death.
Two facilitators helped to run the evening. After a short introduction, they
asked us each to say a little about ourselves and why we were there. Anyone who’s
experienced any kind of group therapy will know it’s important for everyone to find
their voice early so they will be comfortable talking more. And when the subject is
death, comfort is pretty important.
For reasons of confidentiality I can’t tell you what other people said, though I
betray no secrets if I say a couple of them were dealing with the prospect more
immediately, either for themselves or someone close. A few others had worked all
their lives in the caring professions so had experience of dealing with death, and
having moved on or retired felt this was a good time for them to think about it a
more personal way. Some wanted more practical help. Thinking ahead as what
should go into that folder to be left behind. Copies of the will, funeral plans, financial
papers, maybe the letter one wanted to write to one’s children or next of kin. Then
there were more existential questions. But if I can’t disclose other people’s stories, I
can tell you what I said. Though you’ll have to believe me when I add that I didn’t
really know what was going to come out of my mouth until I opened it. I had come –
I thought - in a rather dispassionate way. As a novelist working in history, I’ve spent a
lot of my life resurrecting the dead, yet never connected their passing with my own
and I also felt, like many people I suspect, that we simply don’t talk about enough
about it, and I wanted to confront that.
But when it came to my turn what I actually said was this: that I had been in
my early 30’s when my father died. And that his illness and death – one following
close on the other - had poleaxed me emotionally, so that I found myself drowning in
grief, a state that lasted for a debilitating length of time. That that was many years
ago now but that as an adult with grown up children myself I was worried that my
own death (which is certainly not imminent as far as I know) might have the same
impact on them. And it seemed to me that one of my last jobs as a parent was to –
well, I suppose - show them how to die well. To make it somehow part of life, so
they in turn might eventually might find it easier when it came to their own.
Looking back on it, it was a tall order for a couple of hours chat and in the
end I didn’t get talk very much about that. Which was maybe no bad thing, because
while it happened a long time ago, reliving it is still unnerving.
After a while, the group divided into two sections. Those who had come for
practical help and those who wanted – and I can think of no other way of saying this
– to find a way to) living day to day with the idea of dying.
It is the most extraordinary thing about humans – that along with our – albeit
limited ability to prepare for an unknown future - we find it very hard to accept the
unassailable fact of our own end. It is literally impossible to imagine how it will be
when we are dead. Which in itself is absurd, because of course “we” will not be
there, for it to “be” anything at all. And yet the dread remains. And with it all those
answerable questions about the meaning of life.
Historically, religion offered -and for many people still does - a terrific solace.
I have no wish to change anybody’s ’mind on the idea of life after death. Indeed,
there are times when I feel a kind of raw envy for it. Secular gurus might wax lyrical
about the joy of the evolutionary journey alla Richard Dawkins, but it doesn’t scratch
my itch when it comes to grappling with the thought of my own extinction.
For the longest time, because death so often came accompanied by
unalleviated suffering - it served to concentrate the mind mightily on what might be
to come. Heaven – like happiness – tends to write white, but walk into any church
where images of the past are preserved - and as a student of renaissance my mind is
full of them – and hell is technicolour, screaming agony.
Interestingly, when western society started on the path that would alleviate
many of the death agonies, the arrival of analgesics in the mid 19th century, the only
voices to question the wonder came from inside in the church, fearing that making
death easier might make people turn less readily to God as they approached it.
Hell is a largely discredited place these days. And death, once such a stable of
existence; infant mortality, plagues, epidemics and hundred other killer illnesses, has
much less dominion over us thanks to the astonishing progress of medical science.
Not to mention the rise and rise of consumer culture. In terms of the landmarks rites
of passage: birth, marriage and death, the first two are doing a roaring trade: the
import of baby showers from America and the current lunatic extravagance of
weddings. In contrast, death lives in the shadows – for most in takes places in the
sanitised environment of a hospital, followed by a brief ritual in a perfectly
manicured crematorium in some out of town location; opportunities for event
management strictly limited. Apart from royal or superstar deaths, there is little
opportunity for grief as shared bonding or a reason for pomp and pageant – not to
mention the expenditure that, for instance, many wealthy Victorian went in for. Our
19th ancestors may have had trouble talking about sex, but they had no qualms
going public with a good funeral.
Our lack of experience when it comes to handling death – has, not
surprisingly, made it more frightening. And it is that fear – and that silence - that the
Death Café was founded to address. It was the brain child of the
Swiss sociologist and anthropologist Bernard Crettaz – a way to challenge what he
called "tyrannical secrecy" over dying. In 2004 He began to organise and facilitate
small gatherings of people in an informal setting to talk, in whatever way they
wanted, about their own or other people’s demise. Through him and the continued
work of ts British founder, Jon Underwood, who died painfully young in 2017, the
Death Cafe has inspired thousands of gatherings in many different parts of the
world. Each in their own way, I suspect, as varied as the one I attended
So, what did we get out of the evening? Well, I’m not sure there were any
great revelations but then I don’t think that was the point. For a valuable couple of
hours, we all talked about death as if it was a part of being alive. And it gave me
some personal insight.
At a certain point, I found myself retelling a particularly raw moment in my
father’s dying. When, as I sat at his bedside – and it would have been only a few days
before he died - he said to me. ‘You know I am going to miss you so much. ‘
I think it was that admission that unlocked the sluice gates on my grief. And it
was so painful that I had decided I must never say such a thing to my own children.
Because of course, it would be them not me who would do the missing.
The facilitator listened gently, before going on to point out that it had clearly
been something my father had needed to say. In effect, it was the greatest
expression of love he could offer me. And if we were going to start giving death a
more natural place in our lives, then we, the living, would have to learn how to
better support and listen to those doing the dying. Because at that moment it was
not about us, but about them.
So, would I visit another death café? Certainly. If just to be among a group of
strangers willing to talk about something we usually ignore. As to whether it might
help me when it comes to my own dying? Alas, that is something I will not be able to
come back to tell you about.
Posted by Robin Fontana Kent on Oct. 31, 2019, 3:38 p.m.
Huge thank you to the VC Reporter and Kimberly Rivers for the cover article on Death Cafes in Ventura County, CA.
Stamford’s first Death Cafe has opened up serving a message that we should make the most of our “finite” lives...
Posted by Jools Barsky on Sept. 20, 2019, 10:33 a.m.
A PIECE of dance theatre about dying – accompanied by an after-show Death Café – comes to Glasgow tomorrow...
Posted by Death Cafe's @ McGill on Sept. 13, 2019, 9:17 a.m.
Posted by Jools Barsky on Aug. 30, 2019, 1:59 p.m.
Talking about death is a tricky topic for many of us reserved Brits. But Death Cafe is on a mission to break this stigma. Far from being creepy and morbid...
Posted by Jools Barsky on July 13, 2019, 12:48 p.m.
A pop-up death cafe has been held in Adelaide to spark conversations and help people overcome their fear of dying.
Conversations about life and death might not be common over coffee and cake, but almost 30 people gathered at church in Walkerville, in Adelaide's north-east, to chat about wakes, wills and last wishes...
Cambridge university hospitals NHS trust hosted a Death Cafe by the DeathCafeCambridge movement.
It was brought about by Dying Matters week in the UK in May and whilst the momentum of Death Cafe is picking up speed, the host felt the need to bring these conversations to the staff in the acute teaching hospital in Cambridge, UK.
It was a first for the hospital and plans are in place to make Death Cafe CUH a regular event to give staff a safe place to talk about issues around death and dying. I am pleased that it was welcomed and reviewed so positively. Patients and visitors were also welcome to attend.
On April 30, 2019, CBC Radio 1's Adrienne Pan, host of Radio Active, explored the Death Cafe and death positive movement in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
The article in the newspaper and online was the same - but with a different headline.
Thank-you to Adrienne Pan, host of Radio Active for engaging in a conversation about Edmonton's new Death Cafe.
"Death Cafe is not a place, it's a global movement."
This segment of the program aired on CBC Radio April 30, 2019 at 3PM MST. It is ~7 minutes long.
Posted by Gina Vliet on April 29, 2019, 12:44 p.m.
"A group of Edmontonians meets every month to discuss death positiviyt, preparing fro death, and getting over the taboo of the "D words" - death, dying, deceased. Death Cafes are a growing, global movement, and the Edmonton chapter opened in November 2018."
We did in fact hold our first meeting on the Day of the Dead!
Much gratitude to Omar Mosleh for such a thoughtful article on death positivity and our new Death Cafe.
This article details how the Death Cafe came about but also about the goings on of the Ithaca Death Cafe. I wrote this article after finding out about the Death Cafe movement. It was a pleasure to write and gave me some insight into a great community.