This month (April 2021) marks my one year anniversary in facilitating a death café. Death cafes were started in the UK in 2011 by Jon Underwood, who summed up the intention of cafes with: “I just believe that if people thought about death more, about the fact they were going to die, then there would be less bullshit.”
Personally and professionally, death cafes have been incredibly illuminating. Here are some of the wisdoms I have learned (or knew and were affirmed), from the biased (i.e. self-chosen) but sweet sample of folks that have attended our death cafes:
- People want to talk about challenging topics, but many have a hard time finding those in their personal lives that will engage with them
- We want to learn from each other; no one has ever shown up to our death cafes looking to dominate the conversation or proselytize
- Not everyone is afraid of death
- People that fear death feel that way for a diversity of reasons – fear of the unknown, of the afterlife, of unfinished work, of pain, of grief of loved ones.
- Many have had unexplained spiritual experiences that offer some peek into the dying process or the afterlife
- Death cafes are a practice of spiritual fitness
- While many people question the meaning and purpose of life, death can gift (even force) meaning and structure to a life
- There is social justice work around death and dying that impacts us all, from autonomy, empowerment, and integrity at the end of life (vs the violation of prior requests); the greening of burial practices and cemeteries; racial disparities in disease and death; the wording utilized to describe deaths (such as death by suicide – this is not stigmatizing, compared to the antiquated and offensive “committed suicide”); addiction and mental illness; remembrance of collective atrocities and tragedies; connection to land and ancestors – our own and each other’s, as we find our way through life and establish meaning
- Humans have capacious and innate love, compassion, empathy, and joy, and our ability to hold space of both/and – joy and sorrow, grief and vibrancy, is inspiring
- Even atheists can be spiritual
- We are all in the process of dying, every day we have small deaths (we are not the same person that we were yesterday), and no one is getting out of here alive
To bring back Underwood’s words, what bullshit would you cut out of your life, if you thought about death more? What does death have to teach you?
I am honored to facilitate our café, to have strangers show up fully in their vulnerabilities, to learn from our community, to draw people together from down the street (my favorite neighbor a few doors down) to across the globe in India. I have become close to some of those that I met through café and am grateful for those connections, particularly during the isolation and stress of our current pandemic. Thank you to all those that have participated in our café (or others – you are doing this work as well).
Interested in joining us for a death café? Check my events tab and death café tab for more information. You can also check out the organization’s website (link below) for events worldwide. If the idea of conversation around challenging topics engages you, you might also enjoy our pleasure cafes (see also the corresponding tabs on my website) www.ignitewell-being.com
More resources on Death Cafes:
The above content is written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT) during a Fireside gathering – more information on the Ignite Well-being website; written material is copyright protected, please cite accordingly. The picture is mine, from Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, GA; please do not reproduce it without permission. To contact me or for more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org Please consider supporting me and my work on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/ignitewellbeing